Plugged In: Supercharged Notebooks Are Coming

1. Intel's Centrino Overhaul

Illustration: Daniel Baxter
The Buzz: Thinking about getting a new notebook? Hold off until later this year, when the elves in Intel's workshop are slated to introduce several new mobile technologies. The fun begins in the second quarter of this year, when the Pentium M chip code-named Dothan arrives. Not only will it have a larger cache, but the 90-nm process that Intel is using should support higher clock speeds. In the second half of the year, notebooks based on a revamped mobile Centrino platform will ship with built-in support for 802.11a/b/g wireless standards. And finally, we can expect Alviso, a mobile chip set supporting Serial ATA, gigabit ethernet, eight USB ports, PCI Express, 2GB of DDR2 memory, and lots of multimedia goodies.

Bottom Line: This isn't a tweak; it's a major overhaul. But the staggered rollout makes it tough to know exactly when to buy.

2. Buddy Doubles

The Buzz: It's official: Social networking (Friendster, Linked-In, et al.) is the Web tech trend of the year. Even so, two new entries are rethinking the basic "my friend is your friend" model. Ludicorp's Flash-based Flickr offers instant messaging, as well as easy tools for joining groups, but sets itself apart with cutting-edge real-time photo sharing. Flickr is free but will have fee-based services at some point. Meanwhile, Ultimate Arena aims Xfire at online gamers. Users receive alerts regarding where and when their buddies are playing, so it's easy to start or join games. The Xfire IM client has been tuned to ensure that players won't get bounced from their games when they toggle to the chat window.

Bottom Line: Gamers certainly could use something like sponsor-supported Xfire; and for on-the-fly picture swapping, Flickr looks dynamite. Regrettably, however, both of these services' business models put me in a Webvan state of mind.

3. Compact in Name Only

The Buzz: The CompactFlash arms race has gone nuclear. This month Lexar Media is slated to ship a Type II CF card with an 8GB capacity. Priced in the $4000 to $5000 range, it targets digital photography pros, who'll be able to snap more than 1000 high-resolution photos continuously without having to swap in a new card.

Bottom Line: Competitor SanDisk markets a $1000 4GB CF card, so Lexar Media's entry isn't for the faint of wallet. I mean, what do you do if you misplace your $4K memory card?

4. Cloning the Office

The Buzz: A Chinese company is going after Microsoft with Evermore Integrated Office 2004, an office suite with more than a passing resemblance to Microsoft Office. The single, highly integrated application handles all of the customary office tasks, and imports and exports standard Microsoft Office file formats. Written in Java, it runs on Windows, Linux, or Mac OS, and costs $99 per year.

Bottom Line: Evermore? Nevermore--at least not in the United States, where Office is simply too entrenched. On the other hand, the new suite could put a real crimp in Microsoft's China strategy.

Contributing Editor Steve Fox covers buzzworthy products, ideas, and trends. Contact him at steve_fox@pcworld.com.

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