Motion pushes ahead with new Tablet PC design

Motion Computing Inc. unveiled its latest Tablet PC design Tuesday, hoping to light a fire under a PC category that has not lived up to early expectations.

The new Motion LE1600 uses Motion’s familiar slate design, but in a much lighter and powerful package than its predecessor, said Elizabeth Clark, director of product marketing for the Austin, Texas, company. The new Tablet PC weighs just 3.1 pounds (1.4 kilograms) with a 12.1-inch display, down 0.25 pounds from the older M1400 Tablet, she said.

Tablet PCs were touted by companies such as Microsoft Corp. as the future of mobile computing when products were first released in 2002. Tablets resemble notebooks but allow users to enter information on a touch-sensitive screen and to hand-write notes into certain applications. To date, shipments of the devices only represent a small fraction of the notebook PC market, according to industry market researchers. Certain industries, such as education, health care and insurance, have shown a special interest in Tablet PCs, Clark said.

For the most part, Tablet PCs have been released in two different categories. Slate devices, such as Motion’s products, consist of a flat slab that lacks a keyboard. Convertible devices, released by companies such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Toshiba Corp., resemble conventional notebook PCs but have a flexible screen that rotates to cover the keyboard when used in Tablet mode.

Motion is now trying to get more PC users to recognize the benefits of a Tablet PC, such as its lightweight design and its capacity for around seven hours of computing time, with an optional second battery, Clark said. Other companies are trying to lower the price of their Tablet PCs to the level of mainstream notebooks.

Motion’s new device is its most powerful to date, with the introduction of Intel Corp.’s latest Centrino mobile technology into the LE1600, she said.

Intel released its Sonoma platform for notebooks and Tablet PCs in January. Sonoma was the code name for the latest version of Centrino, which includes the Pentium M processor, the 915GMS chipset and a wireless networking chip. Intel improved the performance of this new technology by adding support for the PCI Express interconnect technology, which increases the speed of data as it travels around a system.

Motion used the new chipset in the LE1600, but also upgraded from the Ultra Low Voltage Pentium M processor to the Low Voltage Pentium M processor. There is a direct relationship between power and performance in processors, but the drawback to that relationship is that increased power results in increased heat. For that reason, Motion used the Intel chip that consumed the least amount of power in its initial design, Clark said.

But the company has now improved the cooling technology within the LE1600, which allowed it to upgrade to a higher performance processor that uses more power, Clark said. The combination of active and passive cooling technology also allowed Motion to reduce the thickness of the LE1600 by 0.25 inches (0.64 centimeters), she said.

The LE1600 can be used with a docking station for users who only need a mobile PC on occasion, Clark said. However, IT departments that purchased older docking stations for the M1400 will need to upgrade to a new dock to accommodate the smaller LE1600, she said. A new convertible keyboard that snaps into the base of the unit is also available with the LE1600.

Two versions of the LE1600, one with the Low Voltage Pentium M 758 chip and one with a less powerful Ultra Low Voltage Celeron M 373 chip, are available immediately worldwide through distributors and Motion’s Web site. The Pentium M version costs US$2,199 with 512M bytes of DDR2 (double data rate 2) memory, a 30G-byte hard drive and the standard battery. The Celeron M version costs $1,899 with 256M bytes of DDR2 memory and a 30G-byte hard drive. Both models can be configured with different amounts of memory or storage, and many different accessories including docking stations and carrying cases are available.

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