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Japanese Makers Announce New Lighter Laptop Computers

October 18, 1990

TOKYO (AP) _ Japanese companies are promising a new generation of laptop computers made smaller and lighter by new power-saving circuits and plug-in memory cards that replace floppy disks.

″Even though laptop computers were called portable in the past, they really were a burden for people who had to carry them around all day,″ said Isao Hirano, a spokesman for Fujitsu Ltd., Japan’s largest computer maker. ″We’ve changed that now.″

Fujitsu on Thursday introduced a thin new laptop-size personal computer, the FM R-CARD, which uses a full-size keyboard but weighs only 2.2 pounds - less than half the weight of many other laptops.

It uses power-saving technology developed by Poqet Computer, a U.S. company that sells a miniature 1.1-pound computer in the United States. Fujitsu owns 58 percent of Poqet and manufactures its computer, which is about half the size of a normal laptop.

Such technology, which cuts electricity to circuits that are not being used, is important for portable computers because it extends battery life and allows the use of smaller, lighter batteries.

Instead of the heavy battery packs used by most portable computers, which must be recharged every few hours, Fujitsu’s FM R-CARD runs for eight hours on two regular alkaline penlight batteries.

The FM R-CARD, going on sale in Japan in January for 238,000 yen, or about $1,900, uses a unique Fujitsu computing standard and is not directly compatible with computers made by International Business Machines Corp. Officials said they don’t plan to market the laptop overseas, but wouldn’t be surprised if Poqet introduces a similar model that is IBM-compatible.

Earlier this week, Japan’s NEC Corp. announced a diary-size computer, the PC-98 HA, which weighs 2.4 pounds. Because of its small keyboard, NEC officials said they expect it will be used mostly for data retrieval, scheduling and light word-processing.

The NEC model, which also is not IBM-compatible, goes on sale in Japan next week at 198,000 yen, or about $1,585. No plans have been made for overseas marketing, officials said.

Like the Fujitsu, the NEC model uses plug-in memory cards instead of floppy disks.

The cards, which look like thick credit cards, contain an array of memory chips and can be used to store both programs and data, like floppy disks. But they are smaller, use much less electricity and are 100 times faster, said Yoshihiro Satoh, general manager of Fujitsu’s personal computer systems engineering division. In addition, computers using them don’t need a floppy disc drive, saving weight.

The cards are expected to begin appearing on many other portable computers following an agreement last spring between U.S. and Japanese industry groups that established uniform standards for them.

Spreadsheet and word-processing programs already are available on memory cards, and Japanese software makers plan to produce magazine-like cards containing ″lifestyle″ data such as restaurant listings and tourist guides.

But one obstacle will be price, with program cards costing a minimum of about 10,000 yen, or $80 dollars, to produce, Fujitsu officials said. By contrast, floppy disks cost less than a dollar to make.

″It will take a while, but memory cards will catch on,″ said Katsushi Shiga, an analyst for Dataquest Japan, the Japanese branch of a U.S. computer industry research company. ″Experienced computer users will be slower to adapt because they tend to feel uneasy without floppy disks, but new users are quickly accepting them.″

Also this week, Intel Corp. of the United States announced in Japan a new powerful microprocessor, the 386 SL, that will allow laptop makers to increase performance while curbing electrical consumption. Like the Fujitsu laptop, it monitors the computer’s circuits and shuts off those not being used.

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