IBM updates Thinkpad with cursor control options

Many notebook users aren't fond of the little cursor-control buttons that sprout from the middle of a notebook keyboard. IBM's new Thinkpad at least gives those users a choice between three different designs, and throws in a touchpad for users who would prefer to avoid the whole idea.

For the first time, IBM is shipping three different red caps for its TrackPoint device, which controls the on-screen cursor for the new Thinkpad R40 series. The traditional TrackPoint cap, a small, rough-surfaced version, ships directly on the TrackPoint device. The most popular cap among the IBM Thinkpad team was a slightly larger cap that comes with a surface of raised dots. A third soft-rim version resembles a golf tee, with a concave top, and is the largest of the three choices shipped with each Thinkpad.

Users preferring to do away entirely with the TrackPoint concept can opt for the UltraNav touchpad, which moves the cursor when a user drags a finger across the pad placed below the keyboard.

The R40 series comes in about 25 different fixed configurations, ranging in price from US$979 to just over US$2,000, said Mike Camesano, R series product manager for IBM. The Thinkpads can also be individually configured by the customer, he said. The series is targeted at small and medium size businesses, as well as the education market.

Another new technology in the R40 series is a one-button feature called Access IBM. When connected to the Internet, a press of the button takes the user to an IBM Web page with detailed information about their notebook's configuration, options, and features. Users can also download new software updates or receive technical support through the specialized page, Camesano said.

The Rapid Restore feature is also included on this notebook, which allows users to access previously saved data and settings with the push of a button in the event of a serious problem.

Potential customers can configure their new Thinkpads through IBM's Web site. Two sample configurations were provided by the company. For US$949, the Thinkpad comes with a 1.6GHz Mobile Celeron processor from Intel Corp., 128M bytes of RAM, a 20G-byte hard drive, a CD-ROM drive in a removable bay, a 13.3-inch TFT (thin film transistor) display, and support for wireless upgrades.

Antennas for 802.11a and b wireless LAN (WLAN) connections are included, but users need to purchase wireless cards to get onto a WLAN. IBM does offer complete wireless capability as an upgrade option, Camesano said.

A configuration with a 2.0GHz Mobile Intel Pentium 4 Processor-M, 256M bytes of RAM, a 20G-byte hard drive, a DVD-ROM drive, wireless upgrade capability, and a 14.1-inch TFT display costs $1,499. All machines come with IEEE 1394, or FireWire ports and USB (universal serial bus) 2.0 ports.

Two different sizes of the R40 are available. The smaller version for 13-inch and 14-inch displays measures 31.3 centimeters wide by 25.4cm deep by 3.9cm thick, and weighs 2.53 kilograms. A larger version supports a 15-inch display, and measures 32.9cm wide by 26.8cm deep by 4.1cm thick, and weighs 2.9 kilograms. A number of different media drives, hard drives, or batteries can be inserted into the removable bay, which affects the weight of each notebook, Camesano said.