Dell squeezes Pentiums into notebooks

The direct PC seller plans to release two SmartStep notebooks that use Pentium 4 chips--the first time Dell has used those processors in the budget-friendly product line.

Dell Computer is putting some polish on its inexpensive line of notebook and desktop computers.

The direct PC seller in August plans to release two SmartStep notebooks that incorporate 2GHz and 2.2GHz Pentium 4 chips--the first time Dell has used the Pentium family in this product line. Although Dell has started to list the machines on its Web site, the new computers--the SmartStep 200N and 250N--the machines won't be officially released until Aug. 7 in North America, a Dell spokesman confirmed.

SmartStep is Dell's budget desktop and notebook line. Unlike other Dell computers, SmartStep PCs come with a fixed set of features, which means consumers can't customize the machines. Dell introduced SmartStep desktops in China last year, but subsequently brought the line to the United States.

The new notebooks differ from other SmartStep PCs in that they come with relatively high-end components. With the new systems, Dell also becomes the latest computer maker to combine a desktop Pentium chip with a full-size notebook.

A number of brand-name PC makers have recently begun offering these so-called desktop replacement notebooks. Although using desktop processors cuts overall battery life, some manufacturers aren't concerned, estimating that consumers keep notebooks plugged in 80 percent of the time the machine is in use.

Desktop chips are also less expensive. The 2.2GHz desktop Pentium 4, for example, sells for $241, less than half the price of the 2GHz Pentium 4-M mobile chip, which sells for $637. Desktop chips, however, consume more power, forcing a manufacturer to add larger batteries and build a larger chassis to better dissipate all the extra heat generated by the battery. The SmartStep 200N and 250N weigh 7.9 and 8.1 pounds, respectively.

All in all, this strategy leads to notebooks with lower prices, as well as potentially better performance. The SmartStep 200N comes with a 2GHz chip, a 15-inch display, 256MB of RAM, a 30GB hard drive and a DVD drive. It sells for $1,499, according to Dell's Web site.

By comparison, Hewlett-Packard's Presario 1500 notebook includes a 14.1-inch screen, 128MB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive for $1,364.

Meanwhile, the SmartStep 250N offers a 2.2GHz chip, a higher-resolution 15-inch display, a 40GB hard drive and a combination CD-Rewritable/DVD drive. It will sell for $1,899, according to Dell.

The new machines are significantly more expensive than Dell's first SmartStep notebook, the 100N, which included a 1.06GHz Celeron chip and 14.1-inch screen for $949.

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