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-- by Jim Forbes
Notebook computers are supposed to be handy little devices that mobile professionals can take on the road, but most people still use them more for e-mail and word processing than for making presentations. For a long time the technology primarily reflected those simple concerns, leaving the fancy stuff to the desktops. All that's going to change this spring, as notebook makers give their portables a radical face-lift.
This transformation will include several technologies that enhance video performance. At the top of the list are new 3-D video controller chips capable of generating between 18Mpixels and 25Mpixels of video throughput, driving external displays at 1024x768 pixels and running 3-D visualization programs, as well as the latest games. Chip suppliers looking to sell these products to notebook manufacturers include ATI Technologies, S3 Systems and Cirrus Logic.
Closer to Desktops
Most of the top notebook vendors-including Toshiba, Compaq, NEC and AST-are considering the new chips, say market analysts. They also predict that Apple could be the first to add native 3-D controllers to its portables in a new version of the PowerBook set for release early this year.
This will further close the already narrowing gap in features between desktops and notebooks, making the two form factors even more interchangeable. The total number of desktop and notebook computers sold throughout the world in 1997 could reach 70 million. Analysts believe that 3-D video controllers will be used in more than 15 percent of those units-including most top-of-the-line notebooks sold in the second half of this year.
Of course, that's not all the new notebooks will have to offer. Expect to see Intel's MMX processors, 12.1-inch or 13-inch active-matrix color screens and, in some cases, hardware-based MPEG technology. But don't expect any of this to come cheap: MMX-enabled machines, for example, will probably have a starting price tag of $5,000.