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Viewsonic Set to Dip Its Toes in Netbook Waters

Viewsonic, a leading maker of computer monitors, continues its dalliance with new markets. A few months back it entered the all-on-one business with an iMac-like system. Before that, it took on smartphones. Now the company is looking to take a plunge into the netbook market.

For starters, Viewsonic has launched a pair of netbooks in the UK, called the VNB100 and VNB101. The company confirmed it will release the same models in the U.S before December, although the specs might be slightly different.

"As part of our smarter, greener computing initiative, ViewSonic will be making multiple PC product category announcements over the next several months in order to cater to every lifestyle and work environment," said Jeff Volpe, vice president and general manager of ViewSonic North America in an e-mail to InternetNews.com. "As part of this expansion, we are pleased to confirm that we will be launching netbooks in the U.S. this year."

The cheaper VNB100 is based on Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC) 1.6GHz Atom N270 chip with 1GB memory, a 160GB hard drive and an ExpressCard slot. It weighs about three pounds and has an estimated battery life of three hours.

The VNB101 is lighter, around 2.4 pounds, comes with the 1.66GHz N280 Atom processor, 1GB of memory, a 160GB hard drive and a slightly smaller battery with about five hours of use time. Both models have a 10-inch displays.

As they are only available in England, the prices are £299 for the VNB100 and £329 for the VNB101. Viewsonic said the configurations and prices could change when released in the U.S.

The netbook challenge and opportunity

Viewsonic had one previous foray into PCs earlier this decade, the AirPanel, an early attempt at something more akin to a tablet than PC. That line failed and the company exited the market, something that might be held against it by some, notes IDC analyst Richard Shim.

"There is a market for mini notebooks, the challenge is building relationships and whether they can create those relationships. Viewsonic jumping back in after pulling out before can be a challenge," he told InternetNews.com.

Shim figures Viewsonic is probably just testing the waters to see if it can create some opportunities with channel partners and commercial accounts.

"The fact is, it's hard for these smaller vendors to make an impact. They can make a run for it but we'll see how it works for them," he said. "The reason we're seeing more and more of these smaller vendors getting into the mini notebook category is there's a lot of growth opportunity. When there's a lot of room out there we see people willing to try and stake a claim. So they are willing to join the pioneers in this latest land grab."