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IBM Returns To Laptop Computer Sweepstakes With Promising Model Graphic

March 25, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ IBM is set to introduce a laptop computer Tuesday, returning to a fast- growing market it abandoned two years ago after its entry was criticized as being too bulky and missing certain features.

The new laptop from the world’s largest computer maker will weigh 7.7 pounds and be a little larger than a sheet of typing paper at 12.8 inches wide and 10.7 inches long, according to an industry source. That puts it in the increasingly popular ″notebook″ laptop category.

The model is powered by Intel Corp.’s powerful 386SX microprocessor and features a 60-megabyte hard disk drive, giving it more storage capacity than many other laptops. One megabyte equals about 400 double-spaced, typewritten pages.

IBM also plans to emphasize that its keyboard is almost identical in size and features to the one on its PS-2 desktop computers, instead of a scaled- down keyboard as is found on many laptops.

The new model, which is available almost immediately, should list for $5,995, the source said, making it similarly priced or slightly cheaper than other high-end laptops. A European version of the laptop was announced last week at a computer show in Germany.

″It looks like they may finally be getting it right,″ said Richard Shaffer, editor of the industry publication ComputerLetter.

International Business Machines Corp., which is based in suburban Armonk, N.Y., scheduled a news conference for Tuesday to announce the laptop but declined to disclose details in advance.

IBM’s original laptop, the PC Convertible, weighed 12 pounds and was 14.7 inches long and 12.3 inches wide. Some users complained the machine would not fit easily on airline tray tables.

It also lacked a hard disk drive and was powered by Intel’s considerably less sophisticated 80C88 microprocessor, but listed for only $1,995.

The PC Convertible was pulled from the market in 1989 after three years of lackluster sales.

Analysts say IBM’s new laptop has a better shot because its dimensions and features are in line with the best on the market.

In addition, any product containing the IBM label benefits from the company’s name recognition, reputation for service and clout with corporate computer buyers.

At the same time, the laptop market is one of the fastest-growing areas of the computer industry, giving new entrants opportunity to pick up market share, analysts said.

″IBM still has time to make a big showing in the laptop market,″ Shaffer said.

IBM has a long record of entering businesses late - including the computer business itself in the 1950s - only to surpass earlier entrants.

Though IBM ignored the personal computer market for several years, allowing earlier entrants such as Apple Computer Inc. to steal the headlines, its model took off upon its introduction in 1981 and went on to establish a de facto standard for personal computers. Today, IBM is the largest seller of the machines.

IBM’s return to the laptop market also echos its history in computer workstations. IBM’s first workstations were not strong sellers, but it released a new line of the powerful desktop machines last year that received rave reviews and has become a hit.

But not only is IBM late to the laptop party, it soon will be joined by other computer makers. Digital Equipment Corp., Unisys Corp., Apple, NCR Corp. and American Telephone & Telegraph Co. all plan to announce laptops this year.

The U.S. portable computer market has been dominated by Compaq Computer Corp. and Tandy Corp. of the United States, the Zenith Data Systems division of France’s Groupe Bull, and Japanese makers Toshiba and NEC.

Though IBM apparently believes laptops are important to its future, they are not expected to become a major part of its business. IBM derives more than half its revenue and profit from mainframe computers and related products, and these room-sized machines should continue to be its dominant product, analysts say.

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