IBM unveils P4-powered ThinkPads

IBM Corp. breaks in the Intel Corp. mobile Pentium 4 on March 6, unveiling a line of ThinkPad A31P and A31 notebooks that will ship later in March. IBM joins Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Toshiba Corp., which all launched Pentium 4 Processor-M systems this week.

IBM hopes to distinguish itself by being the first notebook maker to ship with ATI Technologies Inc.’s Mobile Radeon 7800 graphics processor delivering high-end 3D imaging and video playback. The A31P Notebook prices range from US$3350 to US$3700 and ship with a 1.7GHz mobile Pentium 4 processor, IBM’s Embedded Security Subsystem, and support for wireless technologies 802.11b, and Bluetooth.

The A31 series ThinkPads range in price from US$2500 to US$2674 and feature the Intel mobile Pentium 4 1.6GHz processor. The average price of P4-based notebooks announced this week is about US$2500, like Toshiba’s Satellite 5105, also sporting the new mobile P4.

If your work mostly involves standard productivity apps, you may be better off saving money and opting for a less expensive notebook based on the 1.2GHz Pentium III-M chip. PC World looked at a single Dell pre-production P-4 model and didn’t see appreciable performance gains over a comparable PIII-M based Dell notebook that cost less.

Think Imaging

IBM’s notebooks are scheduled to start shipping March 19. The company is positioning them as suited for high-end workstation-like tasks, says Christopher Mantin, IBM worldwide segment marketing manager.

Focusing on imaging, IBM’s new ThinkPads will ship with FlexVew display technology for improved brightness over traditional LCDs, plus more viewing angles.

Other specs on the A31P line match its high-speed chip and fancy graphics. The introductory A31P model will cost US$3350 and ships with a 1.7GHz mobile P4 processor, a 60GB hard disk, 256MB of memory, a DVD/CD-RW (CD-rewritable) combo drive, a 15-inch display, and an ATI video card with 64MB of video memory. For US$3700, you can get the same system specifications along with wireless 802.11b and Bluetooth support, Microsoft Office XP, and a three-year warranty.

Mobile Chip Madness

The ThinkPad A31P series is also targeted at small and medium-sized businesses, IBM says.

Besides the increased speed of the mobile P4 processors, which have a front side bus that increases from 133MHz to 400MHz, IBM adds faster Double Data Rate SDRAM memory technology.

The Pentium 4 Processor-M is not only “the most powerful mobile processor available today [but also] the most power-hungry,” says Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata. The trade-off between faster performance and battery life characterizes Intel’s mobile processors, Haff says. In a mobile environment, a faster processor isn’t necessarily a better processor, he adds.

At any rate, IBM expects the mobile wars to continue. Both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices have made mobile chip development a priority.

Tom Krazit of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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