Intel, Microsoft look away as beefed-up netbooks blur lines

Asustek confirms an upcoming Eee netbook will ship with internal DVD drive and other features that exceed guidelines for netbooks set out by Microsoft and Intel last year

Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp.'s attempts to confine netbooks to the low end of the market to protect mainstream notebook PC sales have taken another hit.

Asustek Computer Inc. confirmed on Saturday rumors that an upcoming model of its popular Eee netbook would ship with an internal DVD drive. The Eee PC 1004DN will come with a 10-inch LCD screen that supports 720p HD video, a 120GB hard drive, and a reported price tag of between US$531 and $590.

While the Asus 1004DN's DVD drive and 720p video playback appear to be firsts for netbooks, its other attributes, many of which exceed the guidelines for netbooks set out by Microsoft and Intel last year, trail other competing models.

Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Mini 2140 will have a 1366x768-resolution screen with the same horizontal resolution of 19-inch widescreen monitors. Its maximum price tag is US$649.

Dell Inc.'s Inspiron Mini 12 netbook comes with a 12-inch screen and a nearly-full-laptop sized keyboard.

Samsung's NC20 netbook does Dell one better, with a 12-inch screen and a full laptop-size keyboard.

"Everything is shifting upwards quickly," said Philip Solis, an analyst at ABI Research Inc. "Netbooks are already very PC-like." ABI predicts that 39 million netbooks will be sold worldwide this year, more than double the 16 million ABI said shipped in 2008.

When success attacks

Along the way, they will likely continue to steal sales away from conventional laptops. Gartner Inc. says revenue from the sale of PCs plummeted between 15% and 20% during the key Christmas quarter, as sales of cheaper netbooks ate into laptop sales or forced vendors to cut prices on mainstream laptops.

Netbooks are also worming their way into big businesses.

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Eric Lai

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