IBM redesigns ThinkPad notebook line

The venerable portable computer gets a refresh with more user-friendly features - and a new brand: ThinkPad A and T

Notebook PCs should be faster, lighter and simpler to use, IBM says. IBM's Personal Systems Group on Monday announced a redesign of its ThinkPad line of notebook computers. The makeover of three of IBM's five ThinkPad models adds a number of new features.

In addition, IBM said the new portables will be available in two new product lines, known as the ThinkPad A and ThinkPad T families.

The redesign, IBM officials said, was prompted by the adoption of the Personal Systems Group's "Edge of Network" (EON) philosophy. EON aims to deliver PCs and appliances that are easier to use and more tied to the Internet.

On that note, IBM added a number of ease-of-use features to the ThinkPads, which are aimed at both users and corporate IT managers.

"As people are becoming more mobile, it has become clear that it's not just about the biggest screen or fastest processor," said Adalio Sanchez, general manager of IBM ThinkPad. "We have to go beyond just integrating the core technology and slapping (parts) together. We have a responsibility to continue to improve the satisfaction of our customers."

New features include a ThinkPad button, which provides access to IBM's Access ThinkPad software, a system configuration wizard and help centre. The button also grants easy access to a search engine for help information about the machine. The search engine's information comes from locally stored files as well as the IBM ThinkPad Community Web site. The engine can also be configured to point to other Web sites, such as a company's help site.

The hardware is equipped with an easy-open lid -- it can be opened with one hand -- and an UltraBay disk drive bay. The bay allows users to swap CD-ROM, DVD or CD-ReWritable drives or add a second battery. The drives can be shared with desktops in IBM's NetVista line.

IBM also added a Universal Serial Bus UltraPort connector to the top edge of the screen in order to allow users to attach a USB camera or a forthcoming Bluetooth transmitter/receiver. IBM also added a keyboard light for low-light conditions.

The notebooks are "wireless-ready" and can be fitted with wireless LAN cards from IBM.

IBM's new naming scheme takes its five distinct notebook families, the 240, 390, 570, 600 and 770 and folds them into ThinkPad A and T families. The A family will offer larger-sized notebooks with more built-in features. It will include redesigned versions of what were IBM's 390 and 770 notebooks, now known as the A20M and A20P, respectively. The A20M starts at $1,799 (£1,151).

IBM's new T series will offer thinner, lighter notebook computers for users who spend more time on the road. The first T series will be a redesigned version of what had been the ThinkPad 600. The new T20, with a titanium-composite cover, weighs 5 pounds with CD-ROM drive installed. The model shaves half a pound from the weight of the current-generation 600 and adds a larger, 14-inch screen. The other new notebooks utilise titanium-composite covers as well.

IBM will continue to sell its ThinkPad 240 mininotebook and ThinkPad 570 thin-and-light offerings through the end of the year. At a later date they will be redesigned and brought under the new naming scheme, Sanchez said.

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