With new portable, Texas Instruments tries to regain leadership in laptop field

October 31, 1990|By Peter H. Lewis | Peter H. Lewis,New York Times News Service

Trying to re-establish itself as a leader in portable computers, Texas Instruments Inc. unveiled Monday a slim, lightweight, battery-powered portable computer based on the popular Intel 386SX microprocessor.

The new Travelmate 3000, at 5.7 pounds and $5,499, is nearly 2 pounds lighter and $1,000 less expensive than a comparable machine introduced by Compaq just two weeks earlier.

At the same time, Texas Instruments introduced a new laser printer that prints 16 pages a minute, twice the speed of the most common personal laser printers.

The Microlaser XL printer will cost $3,499 to $4,499, depending on features; competing 16-page-a-minute lasers cost $5,000 or more. The printing speed makes the Microlaser XL attractive for offices whereseveral computer users must share a single printer.

Texas Instruments was one of the first companies to make portable computers, but those early machines were remote terminals for big mainframe computers. Personal computers soon arrived to supplant the mainframes, just as mammals evolved to challenge the age of the dinosaurs, and Texas Instruments did not evolve quickly enough. The company TC eventually got within striking distance of its rivals technologically, but it could not get shelf space in retail stores.

With the new Travelmate 3000, Texas Instruments is once again among the leaders in the laptop computer field. The company has also expanded its distribution system to reach more computer stores, relying less on specialized dealers and direct sales.

The Intel 386SX chip used in the Travelmate 3000 is rapidly overtaking the older Intel 286 as the standard engine for portable computers; it has already become the most popular chip for desktop PCs, so much so that Intel Corp. has been unable to meet demand from computer-makers.

Compaq, with its new LTE/386s, was the first to incorporate the 20-megahertz version of the 386SX chip into a full-featured portable small enough to fit into a briefcase.

Both Compaq and Texas Instruments refer to their 386SX laptops as "notebook" computers, but in reality neither is much smaller than a medium-sized phone book. At 5.7 pounds, though, the Travelmate is closer to a notebook than the Compaq, at 7.5 pounds.

The Travelmate 3000, also using the 20-megahertz version of the chip, is slightly smaller than the Compaq; both have a "footprint" of 8.5 inches by 11 inches but the Travelmate is 1.8 inches tall, against2.2 inches for the LTE/386s.

Texas Instruments is one of the leading makers of special computer "chipsets" that combine the functions of many components into a few chips, and the company used its own technology to good advantage in this product.

Texas Instruments has placed an impressive array of features into that slim design. Unlike the new machine's predecessor, the single-drive Travelmate 2000, the 3000 includes both a hard disk and a high-capacity floppy disk drive. The $5,499 model has a 20-megabyte hard disk drive; for $500 more, the user can have a 40-megabyte drive. The floppy drive is a standard 3.5-inch, 1.44-megabyte unit.

Compaq still has the lead in hard drives. The Compaq's LTE/386s comes with either a 30-megabyte or a 60-megabyte hard disk, in addition to the floppy drive. The extra capacity comes at higher prices, though, and the Compaq machines cost $6,499 or $6,999, respectively.

The Travelmate's full-size screen displays VGA-level graphics, making it ideal for showing Windows software as well as conventional text. The keyboard has the slightly cramped and hard feeling of other machines in its class, but it is better than most. A new feature is a PS/2-type connector that lets the user add a mouse quite easily. A 2,400-baud internal modem is optional.

The Travelmate 3000's weight of 5.7 pounds includes its rechargeable battery. The battery lasts about three hours, which is acceptable, and by carrying a spare the user can get through a moderate workday. It comes with DOS 4.01 software and various utilities for checking battery life and transferring files to and from desktop machines.

On the printer side, the Microlaser XL comes in three versions. The $3,449 model is compatible with the Hewlett-Packard Laserjet II. The $3,999 PS17 model comes with Adobe Postscript and 17 type fonts. Postscript allows the printer to do fancier things with page design. Finally, a $4,499 XL PS35 comes with 35 Postscript fonts.

At 16 pages a minute, these printers may have too much muscle for most individual PC users. On the other hand, the Microlaser XL printers do not have the internal attachments necessary to connect directly to a local area network.

As with virtually all other lasers available today, they require a separate PC to be used as the brains to control printing traffic on the network.

However, it appears that Texas Instruments has designed its printers to be easy to upgrade for full compatibility with a network at some time in the near future. At that point, the Texas Instruments printers will really stand out.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.