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Until recently, you could get a notebook for as little as $500—if you didn’t mind it weighing at least 5 pounds. Or you could get one that weighed less than 4 pounds—if you didn’t mind it costing between $1,000 and $3,000. New devices such as the Asus Eee and Everex Cloudbook tweaked this equation, with 2-pound configurations starting at $299 … as long as you were willing to use Linux, on a 7-inch screen.

Reflecting the sudden hot growth of the sub-$1,000, sub-4-pound notebook market, Hewlett-Packard announced April 8 its new 2133 Mini-Note PC, a shiny, sturdy, full-function mini-notebook machine with an 8.9-inch WXGA wide screen and an operating system choice of two versions of Linux, or Microsoft Windows XP Professional, Vista Home or Vista Business, in a lightweight anodized aluminum shell. (I’ve been trying out a preproduction Vista model, and it is, as claimed, a real Windows computer, touch-typeable keyboard and all, in a sub-"ultralight" form factor.)

HP’s entry is the latest in what’s shaping up to be the year of mass-market ultraportable computers, said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director of emerging technology platforms at JupiterResearch. "HP has a very strong offering in this arena, which should compete nicely in the marketplace. It will have appeal across the board. It will be very strong in the student and education market, be relatively low cost, which is good for the consumer and education markets, and will also be strong for vertical markets. They’ll have a broad set of configurations for consumers/individuals at low price points, or you can max it out for higher capabilities."

HP is explicitly not positioning the Mini-Note PC within the admittedly fuzzy UMPC (ultramobile PC) arena, instead painting it as powerful, rugged and affordable enough to be used by everybody from students on up to executives. "One reason behind the ‘Mini-Note’ name is that we feel it’s above and beyond an ‘ultramobile,’" said Jeremy Brody, marketing manager of WorldWide Business Notebook at HP. "The 2133 is a fully functional notebook. We include some features you don’t usually get in this class of machine. We designed the 2133 around three main pillars: affordability, for classrooms; durability—rugged enough for even a 7-year-old to use it—and functional. We’re seeing a lot of executives expressing interest—it’s a true business notebook you’d be happy to carry into any boardroom."

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