John G. Spooner
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Dell on Tuesday unveiled a fleet of business PCs it says are faster, more secure and more environmentally friendly than their predecessors.
The Round Rock, Texas, company, which ranks as the world's top PC maker, launched five Latitude notebook and Precision mobile workstation models at a news conference in New York and took the wraps off a redesigned OptiPlex GX280 desktop for its business customers.
The Latitudes incorporate the latest version of Intel's Centrino chip bundle for wireless notebooks, as well as a security chip.
The OptiPlex, which comes in minitower or traditional desktop form, uses a new chassis design created to boost PCs' cooling capacity and reduce the noise they make. It also uses components made from less hazardous materials to reduce the amount of lead and other such materials it contains. Dell said it aims to meet the European Union's Reduction of Hazardous Substances directive, which requires manufactures to eliminate or minimize a number of compounds, including lead, before July 2006.
In addition, Dell is offering new security "locking" features on notebooks that take advantage of an industry push by Intel, IBM and other PC makers. Computer files can thus be linked to specific machines to prevent network intrusions or theft of intellectual property.
Roger Kay, a PC industry analyst at market research firm IDC in Framingham, Mass., said other major PC makers are already onboard. Dell, as the market leader, will make the computer security technology a market reality, he said.
"It's the same thing with each of these technologies," Kay said. "When Dell moves into a new area, it is ratifying the technology as mainstream."
Although some of Dell's more well-known products of late include its printers, its plasma TVs and its Digital Jukebox music players, corporate desktops and notebooks help form the backbone of the PC maker's business. Dell gets about 85 percent of its revenue from its corporate accounts.
The models announced Tuesday will become the mainstay of Dell's business for the foreseeable future. The company added a number of tweaks that it said address customer requests. The Latitudes are built using a tri-metal chassis, whose magnesium alloy display cover helps to protect their screens, while stiffer and sealed keyboards improve feel and protect from spills. Sturdier hinges enhance overall durability.
The machines also include Trusted Platform Modules, security technology that can lock digital content to specific PCs. Dell offers a smartcard reader that grants network access only to users with a special credit card embedded with a security microchip.
The latest Latitudes include models D410, D610 and D810. They incorporate Intel's latest Centrino chips, offering Pentium M processors up to 2.13GHz, combined with Intel's mobile 915 chipset and several different 802.11 wireless modules. Buyers of the Latitudes can choose between different CD and DVD drives, as well as hard drives with up to 100GB of capacity. They all deliver an average of about five hours of battery life, Dell said.
Its Latitude D410, the smallest and lightest and therefore most portable of the new models, offers a 12.1-inch display and weighs about 3.8 pounds. It starts at $1,677, the company said in a statement.
The Latitude D610, which starts at $1,384 and weighs in at about 4.7 pounds with a 14.1-inch screen, aims to be flexible with options for hard drives up to 80GB, built-in graphics or an ATI Radeon X300 card, and CD or DVD burners, the statement said.
The Latitude D810 aims to offer the most computing power and the largest display, with a 15.4-inch view, paired with ATI's Radeon X600 graphics card, which offers 128MB of onboard memory. It weighs about 6.5 pounds and starts at $1,549, the company said.
Dell's Precision mobile workstations come with higher performance graphics for taking jobs such as design into the field. The Precision 6.7-pound M70 comes with a 15.4-inch screen and Nvidia's Quadro FX Go1400 graphics card with its own 256MB memory. It starts at $2,099. The lighter 4.9-pound Precision M20 was designed to balance performance with portability. Thus, it comes with a 14.1-inch screen and starts at $1,649, Dell said in a statement.
On the desktop, the OptiPlex GX280's BTX, or balanced technology extended, design helps it operate more quietly. BTX desktops use one front-mounted and one rear-mounted fan and place components such as the processor and graphics in the airstream that moves between them for better cooling. The fans are larger than in current desktops, allowing them to move more air, but not rotate as quickly, reducing noise. The front of the machine also has four light-emitting diodes, which serve as indicators to help IT personnel diagnose hardware problems.
Aside from being available as a desktop or a minitower, the OptiPlex GX280 will offer customers a range of Celeron D or Pentium 4 processors from Intel. It can also be ordered with between 256MB and 4GB of DDR2 memory and hard drives from 20GB to 250GB. It will offer a range of graphics, from Intel's GMA900 integrated graphics to ATI's Radeon X300 graphics card with 128MB of memory. The starting price of the OptiPlex GX280 is $737, Dell said in a statement.
Reuters contributed to this report.