Texas Instruments Inc is looking to shake off its technically good but pricey reputation and double its European market share in the high end notebook market with its new 80486-based portables. To prove its point, it is lowering the UK prices of its entire 80486 range – including the TravelMate 4000 WinSLC, WinDX2/50, WinDX2/25 and […]
Texas Instruments Inc is looking to shake off its technically good but pricey reputation and double its European market share in the high end notebook market with its new 80486-based portables. To prove its point, it is lowering the UK prices of its entire 80486 range – including the TravelMate 4000 WinSLC, WinDX2/50, WinDX2/25 and 40 Colour portables, which it introduced at Comdex, in line with post-Black Wednesday sterling rates. Texas, which produced its first TravelMate in 1989, is convinced that the future of the notebook market lies in 80486-based systems, as is the case for desktop personal computers. Rather than using an 80486SL, which it says is difficult to customise, it collaborated with Intel on the design of a low power 80486SX/DX derivative for its machines. The new processor is capable of running at 50MHz – twice the speed of the 80486SL chips, according to Texas.
Special core logic
The company also came up with a special core-logic chip set for its 80486 processor. This has a reduced the number of gates which are tailored precisely to notebook requirements. The design helps save energy and space and, Texas says provides an important advantage. The system operates at 5V. It is designed to process data at full speed and then reduce the CPU’s power supply when not in use – a strategy that Texas reckons succeeds in providing the best performance at peak efficiency. It reckons its machines will run for four to five hours without overheating making them the most efficient 80486-based notebooks on the market. The company prides itself on being one of the first 80486 players on the scene, having launched three new models last June: the TravelMate 4000 WinSX/16MHz, a kind of stepping stone from 80386 and 80486 machines that has 4Mb RAM, 80Mb hard drive and 64 gray-scale VGA display; and the TM4000 WinSX/25MHz and TM4000 WinDX/25MHz each with 4Mb RAM, 120Mb hard drive – a 200Mb drive is also available with the DX version – and 64-gray scale VGA display. All models weigh 5.6 lbs. A further four machines were launched in the autumn and will start shipping in the current quarter. First is the 25MHz TravelMate WinSLC with 2Mb RAM, 60Mb hard drive and 64 gray scale monitor. Second is the TravelMate 4000 WinDX2/50, which Texas claims is the fastest notebook in the world. It has 8Mb of RAM, 200Mb drive, 1Mb Video RAM and 64 gray-scale monitor. It can support an external Super VGA monitor with 256 colours and weighs 5.6 lbs including battery. It comes with the new Microsoft CorpBallpoint, a snap on, snap off mouse device that does not require a cable… unless you happen to be left-handed, since Texas saw fit to put the socket on the right hand side of the machine! The device is perfect for mobile keyboard-phobes, enabling them to point to, click and drag text and graphics. It is also hot-pluggable that is to say it automatically loads the mouse driver once it is in position.
By Lynn Stratton
Texas has amended the original Microsoft design – again, available for right-handers only – by adding a hand grip on the back of the device and altering the arrangement of buttons. In addition there are two new colour notebooks – the WinSX/25 Colour and WinDX2/40 Colour – that Texas reckons are the lightest and fastest on the market. The 25MHz version has 4Mb of RAM and 120Mb hard disk; the 40MHz has 8Mb of RAM and 200Mb hard disk. Both have 512Kb video RAM, the Ballpoint and 256 colour VGA displays. Each weighs 6.3lbs. To spite the popular opinion that passive matrix displays are dull and lacklustre, Texas uses 9.4 – ‘Very Fast SuperTwist Nematic’ colour passive matrix screens from Sanyo Electric Co in the new machines. The screens provide a 15:1 contrast ratio; have no ghosting – the bane of passive technology; and, unlike active displays, can be read in sunlight, Texas says. Travelmate notebooks come with Windows 3.1 and MS-DOS 5.0 pre-installed on the hard disk, have Windows power conservation software and ‘Drop ‘N Go’ that speeds up entry and exit into and out of Windows. Their power management system, BatteryPro, is compa
tible with Microsoft’s Advanced Power Management, and shows users at a glance how much battery life they have left. There are also connections for Ethernet or Token Ring local area networks, SCSI devices and modem. The TM4000 family has received very positive reviews so far. It won the ‘Highest Honours’ award in the November issue of Mobile Office for example; and Byte magazine reckoned it provided the best Windows performance of any notebook and longer battery life than all 80486’s and many 80386’s too. The message is beginning to filter through to consumers, Texas reckons.
Value for money
Though it prefers not to give exact figures, it says its the first three models have sold well and, contrary to expectations, demand for the top end of the range has been geratest. With the new clutch of releases, the company intends to consolidate its share of the US 80486 notebook market – standing at around 10% according to International Data Corp – and to double that in Europe. At the moment it does best in Italy, France and the UK. But it needs to convince consumers that it offers value for money as well as technical performance. It is deliberately offering its entry level 80486 models at near 80386 prices and is now looking to narrow the gap further by adjusting the cost of its mid and high end ranges. For the moment, it is focussing on the UK, where it has around a 3% to 4% share of the 80486 notebook market. The new prices, which are effective from this month, are as follows: the 16MHz TravelMate 4000 SX is down to GBP1,900 from GBP2,000; the 25MHz WinSX has dropped to GBP2,000 from GBP2,500; and the 25MHz WinDX is down to GBP2,400 from GBP2,900. The new entry level WinsSLC Travelmate WinSLC is now GBP1,500 down from GBP1,800; the 25MHz WinSX Colour is GBP2,700 reduced from GBP3,000; the 50MHz WinDX2 is reduced by GBP2,800; and the 40MHz WinDX2 Colour machine is slashed to GBP3,300 from GBP4,000. New 3.3V, 25MHz and 33MHz 80486SL processor-based models are planned for the future.