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Monday, August 18, 2008

Dell Revamps Its Corporate Laptops

Dell Inc. Tuesday released 10 new business laptop models, in a move aimed at defending one of the company's key markets.

The Round Rock, Texas, company lags rival Hewlett-Packard Co. in world-wide sales. Dell is No. 1 in the U.S. market, with a particularly strong position in sales to business users.

The computer giant's new portables include an ultralight model, long-running batteries and backlit keyboards for working in dark rooms. With exterior shells that come in blue, red and pink, they are a departure from a prior strategy that mainly churned out nondescript laptops for corporate customers.

"They're protecting their bread-and-butter market," Richard Shim, an analyst with IDC who covers PCs, said of the new products.

The smallest of Dell's new machines has a screen of just over 12 inches, and weighs about 2.2 pounds -- making it lighter than Apple's ultrathin MacBook Air.

The new laptops represent "a significant improvement" in design over the company's past efforts, said Jeff Clarke, a Dell senior vice president.

Dell also disclosed that it is working on a technology called Latitude On that is designed to let users quickly access e-mail, the Internet and certain other programs without fully booting up their computers. Dell wouldn't say how much customers will have to pay for the feature. Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies briefed on the new PCs, expects Dell to charge as much as $300 for the option.

New Latitude models include the midrange E5400, which starts at $839, and the E6400, which starts at $1,139. The ultralight E4200 will ship next month, Dell said; it didn't disclose pricing, but said the laptop will cost at least $1,300. If these new models are out of your price range, look into getting a used laptop.

Dell says its new models can achieve battery life of up to 19 hours, though that requires using a bigger-than-normal battery along with a "slice" -- a flat battery that attaches to the bottom of the unit, increasing its thickness by nearly a half inch.

IDC's Mr. Shim said integrating consumer features into business machines could make the laptops more attractive to users, but will have little influence on the decisions of the tech professionals who handle the purchasing of large numbers of PCs. For them, new security features offered by Dell will likely be more important, he said.

By: Justin Scheck
Wall Street Journal; August 13, 2008