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Weekend: The money's in mobiles

Notebooks buck trend with increased sales

It’s the era of the notebook computer: shipments for mobile PCs are on the up in the face of declining sales for desktop PCs. A survey by IT research company, Gartner Dataquest, showed that the mobile PC market has grown by 6.1 percent in the last year.

The US market saw a growth of 9.3 percent, while the only areas not to see an increase were Japan and Latin America.

The biggest gains for manufacturers were seen by Toshiba and Dell, whose market shares grew by 11.4 percent and 10.6 percent respectively. Both brands have worked hard to bring customers a mix of cheaper, desktop replacement notebooks and cutting edge machines, utilising the latest advances in graphics and processing power.

There are several reasons for the contrary flow of the notebook, not least of which is the immense leap forward that mobile technology has made of late. Once, consumers had to compromise on power in order to get a portable PC, but with the likes of Intel and nVidia working hard to bring high-end products to the mobile market all this has changed.

Even sticking with a mobile processor you can already reach speeds of 2GHz, and if you'll accept a desktop processor in your notebook, you can hit the dizzy heights of 2.53GHz, albeit with compromised battery life.

On the graphics front both nVidia and ATI have top-of-the-range solutions for mobile users in the shape of GeForce4 440 Go and Mobility Radeon 7500, which mean that gaming and other graphics-intensive applications are no longer the challenge they once were for notebooks.

"In the past, buying a notebook would compromise performance, but that's not so anymore," said Charles Smulders, chief analyst at Gartner/Dataquest explains.

The advances in performance are not the only things attracting users to the mobile platform, according to Smulders. He believes another factor driving sales is an interest in new wireless technologies, like Bluetooth and 802.11b WiFi. These are becoming more commonplace in notebooks, so opting for a portable PC provides you with more flexible communication options that a desktop.

A final development, that will not have had impact on these figures, but could become more important in the future, is the emergence of batteryless notebooks. These models, such as the DeskNote from ECS, use cheaper desktop components to provide power at a low cost in portable chassis, whilst avoiding the problems associated with higher power consumption by desktop parts, by doing away with a battery.

Such notebooks can be sold at the sub-£500 mark, whilst offering high-speed processors and top-notch graphics. The logic is that as many users don't actually use their notebooks on the move, a battery is no longer necessary, while high power and a low price are. It remains to be seen what the market reaction will be, but clearly the mobile market is the one to be in if you want to make money from PCs at the moment.

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