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Till now, if you were in the market for a small, portable laptop, your choices were limited to either a 10-inch “netbook"—tiny machines useful for documents and Internet browsing but little else—or a full-blown 14- or 15-inch laptop. The middle ground between these extremes was mostly deserted, save for a few premium ultraportables such as Sony’s Vaio X, which retailed at a prohibitive Rs64,990.

Dell Inspiron M101z notebook family. Photo: Lee Kirgan

“We see this as a new category in India," says Ashish Gupta, category head for mobility, alliances and new product development at Hewlett-Packard PSG (personal systems group). Hewlett-Packard (HP) is launching its first 11-inch laptop, the Pavilion dm1, in India next week. “These are for people who want the full functionality of a notebook, combined with the portability of a netbook." Gupta says the dm1 is powerful enough to see a mix of both “primary" users—those who rely solely on one computer for all their work—and people who want a second computer on the go.

“A lot of customers of the 10-inch laptops were dissatisfied with the limitations of the traditional netbook," says Shishir Singh, director for products, consumer and SMB (small and medium business) for Dell India. Dell announced the launch of the 11-inch Inspiron m101z earlier this month. “They wanted better multitasking and a full-size keyboard, and I think 11-inch is the best fit for that."

These new launches are priced at Rs20,000-30,000, neatly bridging the gap between netbooks such as the Dell Mini 10, which start at Rs16,000, and the regular 14-inch HP Pavilions, which start at around Rs29,000. Almost all of the new launches are powered by AMD processing units, as opposed to the dominant Intel “Atom" processor used in 10-inch netbooks. Called “Fusion", these belong to a new family of what AMD calls “APUs" or “Accelerated Processing Units".

“It is a single chip which integrates an AMD dual-core processor and discrete-class graphics," says Sachin Thapar, head of the IT and gaming business for Sony India, which launched the 11-inch Vaio YB series last week. What that means is that they combine a processor with a reasonably powerful graphics processing unit, or GPU, which handles the rendering of video and graphic effects in a computer. As a result, these 11-inch laptops are capable of handling design work or even basic gaming, something the 10-inch netbooks struggle with. The netbooks, however, do have better battery life.

“If I had to pick one segment we think this would be perfect for, it would be professional women," says Singh. “Those who are looking for a light notebook with reasonable performance."

The major laptop brands are hopeful that the 11-inch category will take off, even as they admit it might cannibalize slightly into netbook sales. “We have high expectations from this launch," says Thapar. “We see this as an important new category."

Gupta agrees: “We will be launching more devices in this category in the near future," he says.

Here are the 11-inch laptops currently available in India:

Dell M101z

Rs20,900 onwards

AMD Athlon II Neo K125 at 1.7 Ghz/ 2GB RAM/250GB HDD/Windows 7 Starter

HP Pavilion dm1

(launching February)

Indicative price: Rs25,000-27,000

AMD Fusion E350 at 1.6 Ghz / 3GB RAM/320GB HDD/ Windows 7 Home Basic

Sony Vaio YB

Rs26,990 onwards

AMD Fusion E350 at 1.6 Ghz/2GB RAM/ 320GB HDD/ Windows 7 Starter

MacBook Air 11


Intel Core 2 Duo CPU (1.4GHz)/2GB RAM / 64GB Flash-based HDD/Mac OS X

Acer Travelmate 8172


Intel Core i3 CPU at 1.2Ghz /2GB RAM / 320GB HDD/Windows 7

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