December 22, 2004 11:00 AM PST
Notebooks to slim down in New Year
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After several years of bulking up to meet consumer demand for high-performance models with large screens, many notebooks will shed weight to dip below 7.5 pounds. New hardware, including an updated version of Intel's Centrino chip bundle, will help usher in the era of slimmer portables, which aren't expected to cost much more than heavier counterparts with equal components, industry watchers say.
A year ago, two-thirds of the notebooks on the market had desktop processors and were heavier than 7.5 pounds, said Jonathan Kaye, manager of product marketing for consumer notebooks at Hewlett-Packard. "Moving into 2005, we're going to see a shift, flip-flopping to maybe 65 percent of notebooks being under 7.5 pounds."
Expect notebooks to get slimmer in 2005 as consumers who've grown accustomed to laptops increasingly recognize the benefits of mobility.
Most consumer notebooks will shrink to between 6.5 pounds and 7.5 pounds. But heavyweight notebooks won't go away completely, as desktop chips can still offer more performance than the latest Pentium Ms and mobile Athlon 64s.
In the last few years, manufacturers reacted to the desire for higher performance and larger screens by pairing 15-inch, 15.4-inch and even 17-inch screens with processors designed for desktop PCs to create so-called desktop replacement, or desknote, systems. Many of those notebooks tipped the scales at nearly 10 pounds.
Consumers, many of them first-time buyers, didn't seem to mind the extra heft, especially when they gained a big screen. But that's beginning to change, according to PC industry watchers, as increasingly sophisticated buyers consider purchasing second or third notebooks, and factors such as weight and battery life--two features aided by Intel Centrino and low-power Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon chips--jump higher on buyers' lists of must-haves.
For its part, Intel will use "Sonoma"--the next version of its Centrino bundle--to nudge the market toward slimmer notebook models in 2005. Sonoma, which is scheduled to come out in January, could mark the turning point in the proliferation of Centrino in the consumer market, Intel says. The chipmaker, which launched its Centrino chip bundle in early 2003, has been pushing for lighter machines ever since.
But consumers weren't always convinced of the lighter-is-better philosophy. Until August or September of this year, buyers frequently opted for the relatively cheap and fast approach of desktop Pentium 4-based notebooks or the lower price of AMD Athlon processor machines. Around the back-to-school shopping period, lower-priced Centrino systems and changing attitudes about mobility and processor speeds began to intersect.
People who bought desknotes three or four years ago "are refreshing their notebooks, and now they understand the benefits of mobility," said Chad McDonald, senior manager notebook product planning for Gateway. "They realize that thin and light is better, that wireless is unbelievably convenient and battery life is important."
In addition, he said, premiums consumers who once paid for lightweight platforms "have evaporated somewhat. Now that cost structures are in line, it allows us as (manufacturers) to develop more attractive form factors."
Intel's desktop Pentium 4 chips offer higher clock speeds and lower prices than processors designed specifically for lightweight laptops, such as the Pentium M.
But Pentium 4s also consume more power and thus produce more heat, requiring larger heat sinks and more fans, which contribute to heavier chassis. The Pentium M, which currently runs at a maximum of 2.1GHz vs. the Pentium 4's 3.8GHz, performs nearly as well as the Pentium 4, according to Intel. The Pentium M also consumes much less power, maxing out at around 20 watts, while many Pentium 4s top 100 watts, according to Intel.
Intel will attempt to drive home its mobility message with Sonoma machines. Thanks to a number of tweaks, Sonoma notebooks
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