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Apple seen delivering "ultra-portable" at Macworld

Apple Computer could introduce an "ultra-portable PC" that employs NAND-based flash memory in time for the January Macworld trade show in San Francisco, one Wall Street analyst says.

UBS Investment Research analyst Ben Reitzes said this week his proprietary checks indicate Apple is working on "ultra-portable PCs" and even notebooks equipped with NAND flash memory in order to speed up boot times.

"We believe these new products could start in notebook products with combo-drives (NAND and HDD) or ultra-portables (NAND only), and could be released in time for MacWorld," Reitzes told clients.

Intel, which supplies microprocessors to Apple, has made no secret of its plans to build NAND flash — a type of solid-state memory commonly found in consumer electronics like digital audio players — into its own PC logicboard designs.

At its developers conference this past March, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker said it would deliver NAND flash features in its forthcoming notebook platform, dubbed Santa Rosa, due in early 2007.

"We need to have devices that boot up very rapidly," Sean Maloney, the head of Intel's mobility group, told developers at the conference. "The same way you come off a plane and get a cell phone signal immediately."

Reitzes also said his surveys and visits to Apple retail locations show a "very positive" reaction to the company's current line of notebook computers: the MacBook and MacBook Pro.

The analyst expects sales of the portables to help drive overall Mac unit growth of 5 percent year-over-year, or 12 percent sequentially, to 1.24 million during Apple's third quarter.

"Checks show the education segment should also lend support to estimates, given June is the time school districts exhaust annual budgets," Reitzes wrote. "With the education segment accounting for approximately 25 percent of US Mac unit sales, we believe both June and July (when new budgets come into play) could see solid growth, especially for MacBooks and iMacs."

The analyst maintains a Buy rating on shares of Apple with a price target of $95.