In a move that may shake up the laptop computer market, AST Research Inc. of Irvine said Friday that it plans to introduce two low-priced, notebook-size computers that can be upgraded to suit a user's growing performance requirements.
While AST is a late entrant to the crowded $2.1-billion laptop computer market, computer analysts said the machines have advanced features and will cost less than half the price of their nearest competitor.
"When you've got an outstanding product with the right features and the right price, it's always the right timing (to introduce it)," said James W. Ashbrook, AST senior vice president of worldwide marketing. "There's going to be a blood bath in the portable computer market, and AST has just made the first stab wound," said JoeAnn Stahel, president of Storeboard/Computer Intelligence Inc., a market research firm in Dallas. "They are serious."
Peter Teige, an analyst at InfoCorp, a market research firm in Santa Clara, said more than 20 companies are either developing or selling notebook computers. He estimated that sales of notebook machines, generally eight pounds or lighter, increased 231% in 1990 to 890,000 units, compared to 260,000 a year earlier.
AST's less expensive model, the Premium Exec 286/12 with a 20-megabyte hard drive, is based on the Intel 80286 microprocessor, and its price will start at $2,495. The higher-end model, the Premium Exec 386SX/20 with a 20-megabyte hard drive, is based on Intel's 80386SX microprocessor and will start at $2,995. Both models weigh about 6.5 pounds and are small enough to fit in a briefcase.
"On the surface, it looks like a very aggressively priced notebook," said Bruce Stephen, analyst at International Data Corp., a market research firm in Framingham, Mass. "AST is a known name, and it has good distribution. It might do well."
AST is aiming the product at business people on the run, such as traveling sales people, reporters, auditors, real estate and insurance field personnel.
The computers feature paper-white VGA graphics and can be expanded for facsimile or modem options. They can operate on battery power for three hours, and the batteries can be replaced in a "suspend mode" without disrupting work on the screen.