New Toshiba notebooks highlight long-running trend

Toshiba Corp.’s new desktop-replacement multimedia notebooks, introduced on Tuesday, are further evidence that U.S. consumers still have yet to embrace the mobility offered by Intel Corp.’s newer mobile processors.

So far, U.S. consumers have shown lukewarm interest in Intel’s Pentium M chip, despite a consumer marketing campaign and price cuts on the Pentium M over the course of the year. In the Asia-Pacific region and Europe, where a notebook’s style and mobility play a greater role in a consumer’s buying decision, the Pentium M has shown up in several consumer notebooks.

The Pentium M runs at a slower clock speed than does the Mobile Intel Pentium 4, but due to certain architectural innovations it is capable of outperforming its faster sibling while consuming much less power, according to Intel. Intel designed the Pentium M specifically for notebooks, while the Mobile Intel Pentium 4 chip is basically the same as Intel’s desktop Pentium 4 chip with some mobility features added to help control power consumption.

Intel currently markets the Mobile Intel Pentium 4 to this desktop-replacement category of notebooks, while it reserves the Pentium M chip for thin-and-light and ultraportable notebooks. The most powerful Mobile Intel Pentium 4 chip is significantly cheaper than the most powerful Pentium M chip, a difference of about US$400.

The new models within Toshiba’s Satellite A75 series and Satellite P35 series are characterized by their large widescreen displays and the desktop-replacement processors. One of the new Toshiba notebooks features a new Mobile Intel Pentium 4 processor introduced by Intel on Tuesday. The Mobile Intel Pentium 4 548 processor runs at 3.33GHz, a new top speed for this product line.

Consumers tend to use their notebooks for gaming or videos rather than spreadsheets or word processing, and widescreen displays provide a better experience for those applications, said Stephen Baker, director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld, a research firm based in Reston, Virginia.

A widescreen display allows users to feel like they are seeing more of the image than presented by a regular display, similar to the difference between a movie screen in a theater and a television screen. In January, 15.4-inch widescreen displays made up 13.6 per cent of all U.S. notebook retail sales, but by August that percentage had grown to 36.6 per cent, Baker said.

The widescreen displays are taking off in a U.S. market that has embraced large displays for some time. Earlier in the year, notebooks based on the Pentium M made up only 11 per cent of all U.S. notebook retail sales, according to data from ARS Inc. in La Jolla, California. Intel has improved the market share of the Pentium M to 20.4 per cent as of the end of September, but is still far below where it had hoped to be with the product this year, said Matt Sargent, an ARS analyst.

The combination of a lower-priced processor with a widescreen display gives consumers a moderately priced PC that’s portable enough to cart around the home while watching DVDs or playing online games, Baker said. To this point, U.S. consumers haven’t shown that they will pay more for the thin-and-light form factor and extended battery life provided by Pentium M-based systems, he said.

Pentium M price cuts have helped Intel and notebook vendors sell notebooks based on the chip at more attractive price points, around US$1,000, said Sam Bhavnani, an ARS analyst. However, Intel faces a challenge in selling the Pentium M to consumers after the megahertz-focused advertising campaign that accompanied the Pentium 4 processor family, when clock speed was billed as the most important indicator of performance, he said.

Intel hopes to drive the Pentium M into more consumer notebooks over the remainder of this year and into next year. The company’s Sonoma launch, scheduled for the first quarter of 2005, should help accelerate that transition, said Stephanie Silvester, an Intel spokeswoman. Sonoma is the next generation of the Centrino platform consisting of the Pentium M, a mobile chipset, and Intel’s 802.11 wireless chips.

Intel also plans to phase out some older versions of the Mobile Intel Pentium 4 chip over the remainder of the year, including the Mobile Intel Pentium 4 538 processor used in one of the new Toshiba notebooks.

Toshiba introduced two A75 series models on Tuesday. The A75-S229 comes with the Mobile Intel Pentium 4 538 processor at 3.2GHz, 512M bytes of DDR (double data rate) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), an 80G-byte hard drive, a 15.4-inch WXGA (1366 pixels by 768 pixels) display, a DVD+/-RW drive, integrated 802.11g wireless and a 5-in-1 media card reader for US$1,649. The A75-S209 is available for US$1,499 with a slower processor and smaller hard drive.

There are two new P35 series models, which replace the P25 series systems. The P35-S629 costs US$2,099 with the new Mobile Intel Pentium 4 548 processor, 512M bytes of DDR SDRAM, a 100G-byte hard drive, a 17-inch WXGA display, a DVD+/-RW hard drive, integrated 802.11g wireless and a Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics card from ATI Technologies Inc. with 64M bytes of memory. The P35-S609 costs US1,799 with a smaller hard drive, slower processor, and different graphics card.

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