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PortalPlayer Seeks Life Beyond the iPod

PortalPlayer (PLAY) is out to prove that it's more than just an iPod chipmaker.

PortalPlayer is touting new technology -- to debut later this year -- that involves a small LCD screen placed on the outside of notebook computers that allows users to get stock quotes, check sports scores and look up phone numbers without opening and booting their machines.

PortalPlayer touts the technology, which it calls Preface, as huge for the company and the PC industry. Even though the first computers with Preface won't be released until near the end of this year, PortalPlayer believes it will get 10% of its revenue this year from the chips.

And the company is predicting that by 2008 50% of all notebooks sold will include the new SideShow (as it's called by Microsoft) screens.

"This could be for us a significant push into a new market with a new customer base," said PortalPlayer CFO Svend-Olav Carlsen at an investor conference earlier this month.

Diversifying revenue and customers could prove important. About 95% of the company's sales in the fourth quarter were to contract manufacturers that make Apple's (AAPL) iPods. The risk inherent in that dependence on Apple seems to have weighed heavily on the stock: Although PortalPlayer's earnings more than tripled and its sales more than doubled last year, its stock trades at a discount to less successful specialty chipmakers such as Synaptics (SYNA) and Sigmatel (SGTL).

And although some analysts question whether the market for Preface will grow as quickly as PortalPlayer officials predict, it may not matter for the stock. Because the company's revenue base is relatively small -- and the PC market so huge -- the company's sales could be significantly affected even if the technology only makes its way into niche markets.

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