Intel thinks business may be starting to pick up, but computer makers aren't as optimistic. Sales are slow in all categories and even Intel now concedes that one bright spot, netbooks, is cutting into sales of higher-priced laptops to some degree. That's bad news if you are, say, Dell. But it is good news for customers, who seem to be getting more choices at lower prices, as computer makers compete for fewer shoppers.
A couple examples from this week:
Yesterday, Dell began selling a thin-and-light laptop, the Studio 14z, with an interesting configuration. To reduce the size and weight, as well as the cost, Dell dumped the optical drive. The result is a budget laptop with a 14-inch 720p LED display that is only 0.8-1.2 inches thick and weighs 4.3 pounds. The Studio 14z starts at $649 with a 2.0GHz Pentium Dual Core T4200, 3GB of memory, Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics and a 250GB hard drive. The GeForce 9400M graphics explains why Nvidia issued a release on the Studio14z ("up to five times faster graphics performance than Centrino 2 notebooks"), rather than Dell. Like other Studio laptops, this model also has an attractive design and comes in several colors. I suspect many users won't miss the optical drive, but Dell does offer an external DVD for $90.
I haven't seen this model yet, but based solely on the specs and price, if I were buying a budget laptop, especially for a student, I would take a close look at the Studio 14z.
The other interesting laptop to ship this week is MSI's X-Slim X340, which MSI says is the first laptop to use a lower-priced version of Intel's low-voltage processors for ultraportables (MSI announced it last month, but it is only now becoming available.) In terms of portability and features, the X340 is similar to premium 13-inch laptops such as the Apple MacBook Air and Lenovo ThinkPad X301, but it costs less. The X340 is measures 0.8 inches thick and weighs only 2.9 pounds with a standard 4-cell battery. The base configuration includes 13.4-inch WXGA (1366x768) display, 1.40GHz Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500, 2GB of memory, Intel integrated graphics, and a 320GB hard drive. In its release, MSI said it starts at $900, but at least one site is selling the X340 for $100 less.
In addition to the X340, MSI announced that it will be showing two new members of the X-Slim series, the 14-inch X400 and 15.6-inch X600, at Computex in Taiwan next week. I expect to see several affordable thin-and-lights based on Intel CULV processors at the show.
Both the Studio 14z and X-Slim X340 are examples of how computer makers are quickly filling in the gaps between netbooks and notebooks--in terms of both portability and price--with novel designs and configurations.