Dell Goes Back To School With Latitude 2100 Netbook

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Dell is expanding its business-class Latitude notebook line by introducing a netbook aimed at the education market.

The Round Rock, Texas-based computer manufacturer is rolling out the latest addition to its Dell Latitude line, the 2100 netbook, designed for classroom use. The company is touting the 2100 as being 'student-rugged,' which includes a rubberized exterior and antimicrobial keyboard.

"We're targeting the Dell Latitude 2100 at the education market," said Ken Musgrave, head of industrial design for Dell. "We wanted to develop a product for this space, so we took the time to talk to students and teachers. We used that feedback while we designed the product."

To that end, Dell has introduced a rubberized case intended to stand up to the wear and tear a typical student may put the netbook through on a day-to-day basis. In order to make the Latitude 2100 easier to transport, a quick connect shoulder strap or handle can be quickly fitted to the case of the 10.1-inch netbook.

Because schools tend to act as incubators for sickness, Dell is offering the option for an antimicrobial keyboard in the U.S., with the intention of reducing the germs that may accumulate through normal use.

Another concern for teachers is students working behind a screen with easily available Web access. Rather than paying attention to a teacher, a student could surf the Web. That's why Dell introduced an indicator light to the chassis of the netbook.

"The indicator light is set up to turn on when someone connects to the Internet," Musgrave said. "We call that network activity light the 'Tattle Tale' light, because it allows a teacher to scan the room and see who is connected to the Web."

Web connectivity is provided through a cart, a compelling offering that is designed to accompany the Latitude 2100 in the classroom. Called the Dell Mobile Computing Solution, the cart serves a couple of purposes. It acts as a docking station where the netbooks in the classroom can be stored and locked down after hours.

"The Dell Mobile Computing Solution has no manually connected cables and just one power outlet to the wall," Musgrave said. "A teacher can switch on the cart, plug into a data port and share connectivity via Wi-Fi in the classroom. And because the students are using a Latitude 2100 netbook, updates can be pushed to the systems."

But the computer manufacturer believes there might be more to life for the Latitude 2100 netbook than just classroom use. According to Musgrave, Dell has been investigating some applications where the system might be able to function in the business world as well.

"We found some interest for the Latitude in some other places, including medium business and larger enterprises," Musgrave said. "The netbook could be used anywhere from a resource center to a library to a training center. It might be able to be used as a loaner for the day or be checked out if an employee is travelling."

The Dell Latitude 2100 netbook comes preloaded with the choices of Windows XP Home, Vista Home Basic and Linux Ubuntu. The netbook is powered by the Intel Atom N270 processor and 10/100/1000G Gigabit Ethernet connectivity coupled with a full suite of wireless communication options.

Customers will also have the option of hard or solid state drives for storage of up to 250 GB or 16 GB, respectively. Options for memory will depend on the configuration of a Latitude netbook, with 512 MG or 1 GB of DDR2 memory available; a memory slot can accommodate an additional 1 GB of memory.

The computer manufacturer has also listened to feedback about netbooks, which can sometimes have cramped keyboards. Because the Dell Latitude 2100 has a 10.1-inch display, the company tweaked the keyboard design.

"We pulled out cursor control keys in order to deliver a full-sized right shift key," Musgrave said. "The netbook also has a full-sized enter key as well."

When equipped with the standard 3-cell battery, the Latitude 2100 will weigh 2.91 pounds. The netbook is available in five colors -- School Bus Gold, Chalkboard Black, Ball Field Green, Blue Ribbon and Schoolhouse Red. The system starts at $369 and is available immediately.

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