June 17, 2003 4:00 AM PDT

HP to expand notebook lineup

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When it comes to notebooks, Hewlett-Packard will play the variety card.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based computer maker is planning to introduce an array of notebooks in the next six months in an effort to participate in as many subgenres as possible, said Alex Gruzen, senior vice president and general manager of the mobile computing group. In all, HP will come out with about 10 new notebook platforms, or models, before the end of the year, he said.

For consumers, that will mean an HP notebook with a 17-inch screen before the end of the year, he said, and a notebook with a DVD+RW as a standard feature in time for the back-to-school buying season, with similar models to follow.

HP will also sell tablet PCs in retail in a pilot program.

"You are seeing a diversification of the product lines," Gruzen said. "What will drive price points back to the teens (above $1,000) are things like DVD+RW and larger, wider screens."

For corporations, HP will expand its wireless offerings and introduce notebooks with Intel's Centrino chipset. Centrino consists of three parts: a Pentium M processor, a chipset and an Intel wireless module. So far, HP has introduced Pentium M notebooks into the corporate space but included wireless modules from other manufacturers.

The company is also changing the industrial design on its corporate notebooks. The new models will sport a black chassis with a silver frame and feature a recessed touch pad and a track point.

Linux notebooks for the Thai market, however, are off for now, although HP will continue to look at where the operating system might be used for laptops.

The push on portables comes for a good reason. Notebook shipments are growing faster than desktop shipments and, generally, laptops lead to higher profit margins. HP, currently ranked by IDC as the largest notebook vendor, is experiencing double-digit growth in shipments on a year-to-year basis, he said.

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The first notebooks to come out of HP's product blitz will be the nc4000 for corporate users and the nx7000. Both will be released at CeBit America later this week.

The 4-pound nc4000 will combine a 12.1-inch screen, a 1.4GHz or 1.6GHz Pentium M, and integrated wireless networking. The nc4000 notebook is a so-called one-spindle notebook because it contains a hard drive, but lacks integrated optical or floppy drives. It is the first laptop designed by combined HP-Compaq laptop units.

Later in the year, HP will introduce two- and three-spindle notebooks with the full Centrino bundle.

The role of wireless
Choosing a wireless chip often has more to with external factors than the performance of the wireless component itself, Gruzen said. In the nc4000, the predominant consideration was the graphics chip. HP notebook customers had already qualified, or extensively tested, graphics chips from ATI Technologies. Centrino's chipset, or at least the one HP considered, comes with integrated graphics, which would have forced customers to test a whole new set of drivers.

Centrino can be used in the two- and three-spindle notebooks because these notebooks are larger and there is room to slip the additional graphics chip onto the motherboard, he said.

Product release schedules and pricing are also key: Some chipmakers will get design wins because they are able to get 802.11a/b/g chips more rapidly to market.

Overall, wireless is taking off more rapidly in the consumer market than in the corporate market, he said, largely because corporations still need to figure out their roll out strategies. Nine of the 11 different notebook models that HP will sell at retail this summer will come with built in wireless.

HP, though, is still up in the air on some issues. The company has yet to determine whether it will bring out a notebook running Microsoft's Windows MediaCenter XP OS, a version of Windows that makes it easier to record TV shows on a hard drive.

While consumers have apparently taken to MediaCenter desktops, putting the operating system on a laptop requires inserting faster hard drives for better video access, which increases the price.

"How much of a premium over a similarly (configured) notebook is it worth?" he asked.

Linux is also back on the drawing boards. Thailand's Information and Communications Technology Ministry earlier stated that HP would market Linux notebooks in Thailand starting at $450. The notice proved premature.

"We had a team ready to install their version of Linux, but in the end we just didn't close it," he said. "The deal was never finalized."

On June 23, HP is expected to lend its support for the new Microsoft Pocket PC 2003 operating system for handhelds by announcing several new devices using the OS, according to sources. The devices were recently approved by the Federal Communications Commission.

Two of the devices, the iPaq models h1930 and h1940, will be added to the low-end 1900 series and will come with a built-in Bluetooth chip. The FCC also approved iPaq h2200 devices that come with an Intel XScale PXA255 processor for handhelds and a built-in Bluetooth chip. The sources say HP also will announce two high-end devices for its iPaq h5500 series, both of which will come with Bluetooth.

News.com's Richard Shim contributed to this report.

 

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