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Laptop boom here to stay

Laptop boom here to stay

Already hot sellers, laptops will represent an increasing percentage of PC sales in the coming years, exceeding analyst estimates, according to a senior Intel executive.

A combination of lower prices, longer battery life and integrated wireless networking has helped spur sales of notebook computers over the last year.

Sales will continue to rise as a result of improvements in technology attracting more users and a recovery in corporate spending, vice-president and general manager of Intel’s Mobile Platforms Group, Anand Chandrasekher, said.

“I really believe the next cycle of [corporate PC] upgrades is going to be notebooks,” he said.

Laptop sales have helped brighten the prospects of PC vendors. After languishing amidst a slowdown in demand that has lasted for more than two years, PC shipments have posted double-digit growth over the last two quarters, largely because of surging demand for notebooks, according to market analysts IDC and Gartner.

Rising laptop shipments are good news for vendors and hardware makers, like Taiwan’s Quanta Computer, one of the world’s largest contract notebook makers.

Quanta is currently shipping around 1 million notebooks each month, with about 30,000 units leaving its factories every day, an assistant vice-president at Quanta, TJ Fang, said.

He credited Intel with helping to spur notebook demand.

“Because of Intel’s Centrino, the notebook business is growing,” Fang said, referring to Intel’s Centrino package, which bundles a Pentium M processor with a wireless LAN chipset.

Conservative forecast

This increase in demand for notebooks had come despite a “depression” in corporate IT spending, Chandrasekher said. While corporate spending on IT had remained low, consumers had snapped up laptops at rates that had never been seen before.

Historically, corporations had accounted for about 70 per cent of laptop sales, he said. However, sales this year had been almost evenly split between consumers and corporate buyers.

Chandrasekher expected to see notebook shipments to again tilt towards corporations in the coming years. Consumers would account for about 40 per cent of the market.

IDC also foresees an increase in the percentage of overall PC shipments represented by notebook sales.

Notebooks are expected to make up 25 per cent of worldwide PC sales in 2003 and 27 per cent in 2004, director of personal systems research at IDC Asia-Pacific, Kitty Fok, said.

This figure was expected to continue rising, she said.

“In 2007, we are expecting notebook sales to account for 30 per cent of the market,” Fok said.

Chandrasekher said that forecast was conservative.

He expected to see notebooks account for more than 35 per cent of PC sales by 2007 as demand for notebooks rose in emerging markets.

Alongside lower prices, further technology advances would help increase sales, Chandrasekher said.

Latest advance

One area that could make an important difference for users was battery life, Chandrasekher said. As battery power lasted longer, mobile users were able to get more use from their laptops. This was one of the reasons why laptop demand had been so strong.

Hoping to extend battery life even further, Intel had invested in the development of fuel cells, low-power organic light emitting diode (OLED) displays and advanced memory technologies, hoping to find a breakthrough that could drive battery life far beyond current levels, he said.

Intel is also developing ways to stretch battery life using existing technologies in a bid to reduce overall notebook power consumption from 12 watts or more to less than 10 watts.

As part of these efforts, the company was working on ways to reduce the power consumption of thin film transistor liquid crystal displays (TFT-LCDs), which made up about 30 per cent of a notebook’s power consumption, Chandrasekher said.

The latest advance in this area is Intel’s 855GME chipset, which contains an integrated graphics controller and incorporates the company’s Display Power Saving Technology.

This allowed the 855GME to reduce the power consumption of a notebook’s display from 5 watts to 3 watts, Chandrasekher said.

“Because the graphics is integrated [with the chipset], we know exactly what’s in the frame buffer,” Chandrasekher said. “Because we know what’s in the frame buffer, we can develop our own mathematical algorithm, which scans the frame buffer pixel by pixel. Then we know which of those pixels we can dim the backlight on, and by dimming the backlight we save power.”

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