Notebook Vendors Expand Battle for Channel Marketshare

Seeking to strengthen their positions in the SMB market and to capitalize on Intel's new Centrino chip, Lenovo, Fujitsu and Toshiba each introduced enhanced notebook models. They all stress convenient features for the business user and competitive pricing.

Three major channel vendors have made significant improvements to their notebook computer lines, setting the stage for an ongoing battle for market share in the increasingly important SMB arena.

Fujitsu Computer Systems announced six new notebooks available through resellers in an array of price and performance ranges. Some models can be used as standard notebooks; others can serve as tablets or pen-based PCs.

Each new notebook and convertible has its own design, something Fujitsu prefers over standard form factors for all models. The company  also prides itself on the light weight of its notebooks. The S6520 is the thinnest and lightest notebook with a 14-inch screen weighing 3.7 pounds, below the usual five pounds, said Paul Moore, senior director of mobile product management.

Despite that minimum weight, Moore noted the design isn't flimsy, thanks to the use of magnesium compounds in the case. "It's all in how you mount the display and (the)  rigidness of the structure of the display," he said. "There's two high-failure mechanisms on a notebook, the hard drive and the display. We use a celerometer to protect the hard drive and a magnesium lid on the display keeps it from cracking."

The high end of the Fujitsu line is the LifeBook A8420 notebook, a desktop replacement which features a 15.4-inch LCD display, wireless USB, a faster E-SATA hard drive port, support for 802.11n networking, and a new, gesture-enabled touchpad that lets users control many functions though simple finger movements.

At the bottom of the line is a more general purpose notebook for price-sensitive consumers. The new LifeBook T1010 convertible tablet PC has a 13.3-inch display and weighs 4.5 pounds with a suggested price of $1,299. But by and large, Fujitsu notebooks are not cheap. "If you want productivity, you're going to pay for that. We tend not to play in the low end of the market," said Moore.

The other tablet is the LifeBook T5010, which replaces the older T4220. It has all of the standard features, like Centrino 2 vPro, wireless networking and Bluetooth and up to a 250GB drive. It also has software control for the laptop's ports, so no can plug in a USB thumb drive and copy off data, a common cause of data loss. Its suggested price is $1,769.

In its own effort to zero in on the SMB space, Lenovo introduced the SL ThinkPad line, which officials said is designed specifically for smaller companies. The SL300, SL400 and SL500 are designed to accommodate a mobile work style, add a touch of multimedia sizzle and sport stylish good looks.

According to Charles Sune, worldwide segment manager for ThinkPad SL Series, the new small business line delivers high-quality, affordable prices and reliable service and support. Sune said SMBs are the fastest-growing segment of the notebook market.

To reinforce notebooks' big appeal to small business, Sune points to IDC data that predicts that in 2009 31 percent of all notebook sales will be made to small businesses. Sune said SMBs are also "the fastest growth area" for notebook sales, outpacing sales to large enterprises.

Sune added Lenovo designed the notebooks to meet the way small businesses work, which includes in the office, at home or maybe at a coffee shop. To address on-the-go businesses, the SL notebooks offer several flavors of wireless connectivity.

In addition to supporting Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and WiMax, the SL notebooks also feature an option to connect to high-speed mobile broadband. He said Lenovo is partnering with AT&T to offer optimized mobile broadband service.

It's no secret that small businesses often have lean IT resources. In an attempt to provide a layer of data protection and security, Lenovo also announced ThinkPlus Secure Business. Among other services, it offers online data backup. You get 5GB of backup space at no charge or can expand to 50GB for $149 (for a year) or $439 (for three years.) 

While features are, of course, important, price is paramount, according to Sune, who described small businesses as "the most price sensitive segment of the notebook market." The SL line is "cost-optimized first, but we had to be careful about tradeoffs."

For example, Sune said, the SL lines does not incorporate a proprietary docking station (which in effect turns the notebook into a desktop PC). However, small businesses can get some of that functionality through port replicators.

"SMBs are [also] willing — to some extent — to trade weight and size for a lower price," Sune said. The ThinkPad SL400 and SL500 notebooks, which feature 14-inch and 15-inch wide screens, respectively are available immediately for a base price of $799. The 13-inch screen SL300 will available in August for $899. The SL300, SL400 and SL500 weigh in 4.6 pounds, 5.5 pounds and 6.4 pounds, respectively.

Finally, Toshiba America Information Systems announced two new laptops, The Tecra M10 and A10, each equipped with Intel's Centrino 2 with vPro. Both include Toshiba's fourth-generation EasyGuard technology, a webcam and common motherboard designs. Toshiba also expanded its Satellite Pro family by introducing the S300, also based on Centrino 2.

(This article was adapted from Internews.com and includes reporting by Andy Patrizio and Dan Muse.)

TAGS: SMB,Fujitsu,Intel,laptops,Lenovo

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