October 26, 2000 5:00 AM PDT

New Dell laptop doubles up on disc drives

No, it won't play your old vinyl records. But you'll be able to shove just about any other type of disc into Dell Computer's latest high-end laptop, which sports both DVD and rewritable CD-ROM drives.

The dual drives are just part of a package of graphics goodies and other enhancements that make the Inspiron 8000 more of a portable workstation than a typical notebook.

Yet while piling on features intended to appeal to creative professionals as well as gamers, the Round Rock, Texas-based PC maker also managed to shave about two pounds off the multimedia portable it replaces, the Inspiron 7500.

Still, pushing 8 pounds, the consumer portable will appeal to only a small number of buyers, analysts say.

The Inspiron 8000 is Dell's first consumer notebook offering DVD and CD-RW drives installed at the same time. While many notebook makers offer DVD and CD-RW, most require the swapping of drives and do not allow them to be used at the same time.

"The question is whether you call it a notebook or a desktop or a workstation," Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said.

Technology Business Research analyst Brooks Gray agreed that Dell clearly hopes to snag creative professionals looking for either "a desktop or workstation replacement."

"We don't expect this to be a high-volume product in the near term," he cautioned. But Dell's portable business has been firing on all cylinders for the past year, with 60 percent growth in the second quarter.

Dulaney said the fully loaded portable would appeal to "less than 1 percent of the population of notebook users."

The Inspiron 8000 is available immediately for direct order from Dell. The entry-level model, selling for $1,899, comes with a 600-MHz Celeron processor, 14.1-inch Super XGA+ display, 64MB of memory, 8MB of video memory, 5GB hard drive, 24X CD-ROM drive, integrated 56K modem, network card, IEEE 1394 port and Windows Me.

The $3,776 system packs an 850-MHz Pentium III processor, 15-inch Super XGA+ display, 128MB of memory, 32MB of video memory, 32GB hard drive, 8X DVD drive, the same integrated components, Office 2000 Small Business Edition and Windows 2000.

Like the Inspiron 4000, the new model sports accents in five colors: royal purple, golden yellow, Tahoe blue, storm gray and midnight gray.

To strengthen the appeal for gamers, software developers or creative professionals, Dell squeezed as many multimedia features into the notebook as possible, said Tim Boyde, the company's technical marketing manager for Inspiron.

While most high-end notebooks top out at 16MB of video RAM, the Inspiron 8000 comes with as much as 32MB. The 15-inch display supports resolutions up to 1,400x1,050, in line with some 17-inch and 19-inch desktop monitors.

Other multimedia features include S-Video, digital audio and IEEE 1394 ports, Harmon Kardon speakers, and video editing software from MGI.

Dell increasingly has been focusing on adding desktop features to its notebooks, particularly as its "portable business surpasses its desktop business in terms of profitability," Gray said.

But adding more features means more weight, making the Inspiron 8000 too much for most users to carry.

"They're appealing to people with limited travel or who need a tremendous amount of horsepower--developers, etc.--that are willing to carry the weight. It's semi-portable," Dulaney said.

Coming in between 7.28 pounds and 7.96 pounds, depending on configuration, the Inspiron 8000 is no lightweight compared with slimmer models weighing as little as 3 pounds.

Still, Dell improved over the Inspiron 7500's approximate 9.5 pounds and shed some features in the process. The PC maker opted for a smaller 15-inch display vs. 15.4 inches and slimmed the thickness to 1.7 from more than 2 inches.

"The change in size is where it basically went on a diet," Boyde said. He emphasized the design change was essential to reduce weight.

While analysts praised Dell's strategy to deliver attractive, high-end portables, they warned that the company has fallen behind competitors in more functional, lightweight models.

"They've done a good job on this one, but they've got to ratchet down on their mainstream notebooks," Dulaney said. "They're a little heavier than they should be. They lost the leadership position to IBM with the (ThinkPad) T20, which is a much better machine."

Dell led the U.S. laptop market during the second quarter, according to market researcher Dataquest. The company had a 21.5 percent share of the market, compared with second-ranked Compaq Computer's 16.6 percent share. Toshiba followed with 13.4 percent, IBM with 12.1 percent and Hewlett-Packard with 5.8 percent.

Worldwide, Dell tied with IBM for third place, capturing 11.8 percent of the market. Toshiba led with 14.8 percent share, followed by Compaq with 13.1 percent.

 

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