Client Systems - Laptop Product of the Year 2001

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You can call them laptops or notebooks or even "mobile desktops," but regardless of the nomenclature, Datamation.com visitors called the Dell Inspiron 8100 the Product of the Year for 2001 in the Client Systems Laptop Category.

The Mobile Intel Pentium III-based computer from Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Computer Corp. garnered 40% of the votes and was a clear favorite of 119 of the 300 voters in this category.

Voted the runner-up was the Thinkpad T23 from IBM Corp., with 23% of the votes. Nothing else even came close to the two leaders. In third place was the Toshiba Satellite Pro 4600 from Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. with 9% of the votes.

Survey respondents said they like the processor power of the 8100.

"I kick back on a chaise lounge, work on my Web site using a wireless connection, and I need as much power as I can get," said Andy Pargh, otherwise known as The Gadget Guru and proprietor of the eponymous Web site. He is an 8100 user and has been for about four months.

"The reason I like the Dell is that it is (depending on configuration) one of the more powerful notebooks on the market today," Pargh said.

"When I bought it had the most RAM and the fastest processor -- I needed power for the graphics, I do a lot of graphics," he said. But he's less than pleased with what he sees as the cheap plastic the machine comes with, and he says the average wait-time for customer service when he has called is more than 20 minutes.

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Of course, the 8100 can be used for more than updating Web sites. In the February issue of MaximumPC magazine, Senior Editor Gordon Mah Ung writes that "the latest Inspiron is the speediest gaming notebook we've ever seen."

"With the fastest CPU and graphics available, a fat hard drive, built-in FireWire, great audio, an 8x combo drive and a 1600 by 1200 screen, the 8100 is overwhelming," he wrote.

The IBM Thinkpad is no slouch, however. It uses the same Mobile Intel Pentium III processor as the Dell.

Michael Pavloff, vice president of strategic sales at Los Altos, Calif.-based Radiance Technologies Inc., likes what he calls "the Thinkpad's reliability, state of the art design, classy look and feel, intuitive ease of use and manageability and 802.11B wireless capability..."

He adds that IBM support "is always very responsive -- never more than a minute wait for a technician to answer a call -- knowledgeable, professional and friendly."

Computing-on-the-go is increasingly both a time and money saver for business users. A recent Gartner Consulting white paper contends that business users with a notebook computer who spend 20% or more time out of the office realized a minimum annual benefit of $34,560 due to improved productivity and efficiency.

And that helps to explain why sales keep going up. Gartner Dataquest predicts a steady rise in the number of units shipped in the United States -- an estimated 9 million for 2001, 10.2 million this year, 11.6 million next year and 14.7 million in 2005.

In many ways Client Systems Laptop is an industry category driven by product improvements. So, what to look for in 2002?

How about increased performance and larger hard drive capacity, suggests Gartner Group analyst Martin Reynolds.

Reynolds, who is more familiar with the Thinkpad than the Inspiron, says the IBM T23 "represents the pinnacle of modern notebook implementation -- but competing products generally match it. Separation is a brand issue..."

And the outlook this year for the laptop industry? Reynolds sees the market as "flat in 2002, with strong growth emerging late in the year. The switch to Pentium 4 and Banias threatens to confuse the industry."

"Corporate computer buying grew strongly in the 1990s, as companies built out their infrastructure," Reynolds said. "It had a surprise second wind in 1999 as Y2K replacements buoyed the market. However, this meant that companies went into 2000 with relatively new systems, which forced single-digit growth in 2000 and 2001.

"We would have expected a turn-up in 2002 as these systems were replaced, but the economy and events in 2001 have caused companies to delay by a couple of quarters. So we enter 2002 on a flat note, but expect strong growth late in the year as the replacement cycle kicks in."

Replacing the older models will be ever faster and more powerful machines. Intel Corp. is planning to introduce a mobile version of its latest Pentium chip, and in the works is Banias, the code name for Intel's new core design optimized for mobile applications and incorporating new low-power technologies for longer battery life.

The technology is expected to be available in the first half of 2003, Intel execs have said.

Other products in the Datamation.com Product of the Year survey and their scores were: the Apple iBook from Apple Computer Inc. with about 6% of the votes; the Gateway Solo 9550 from Gateway Inc. with about 5% of the votes; the HP Omnibook 500 from Hewlett-Packard Co. with about 5% of the votes; the NEC Versa DayLite from NEC Computers Inc. with about 5%; and the Fujitsu LifeBook P from Fujitsu PC Corp. with about 3.5% of the votes.

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