The early bird gets the $149 Toshiba laptop

Waiting in line outside a store for a special deal might be a hassle, but it can save you hundreds on a computer.

No. It wasn't a typo.

CompUSA on Sunday sold a Toshiba notebook for $149.99, after $550 in rebates and an agreement to subscribe to America Online for a year. Although the special only lasted 16 hours, it marked a new low in notebook pricing, albeit a temporary one.

The retailer also offered a Compaq-branded desktop with a Sempron processor from Advanced Micro Devices for $99.99 on Sunday, after $480 worth of similar rebates and discounts.

"I predicted $199 earlier this year, but it is really unbelievable that we are down to $149," said Sam Bhavnani, an analyst at Current Analysis. "Not long from now, someone will (probably) offer a free notebook with a one-year commitment to wireless broadband."

Steep discounts on select items have been one of the prime levers retailers have used this year to bring customers through the door. Wal-Mart Stores put a $398 Hewlett-Packard laptop and $68 Razr phone on its shelves on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year. The year before, Wal-Mart didn't offer marquee specials, and it didn't see a big bump in electronics on Black Friday.

This year, people lined up at Wal-Mart at 5 a.m. on Black Friday and shoved each other to get in the door. Sales of PCs and LCD (liquid crystal display) monitors have been strong.

Consumers jumped on the CompUSA deal, as well. The retailer sold 7,500 of the notebooks in two hours, according to Brian Woods, executive vice president and general merchandising manager of the retail chain. That comes to 2.5 notebooks a minute. Roughly 30 notebooks were available in each store. Throughout the day Sunday, 7,500 desktop bundles were sold.

"These PCs were special skus (stock keeping units) that are planned months in advance. This was the last Sunday before Christmas," Woods wrote in an e-mail. "These deals have an incredibly positive impact on store traffic."

Although the notebooks sold out, the desktops did not. More deals are likely, according to Woods.

"Stay tuned for more great deals this holiday season," he said in his e-mail.

The notebooks offered under these deals are not attenuated configurations. The $149 Toshiba came with a 15-inch screen, a 1.5GHz Celeron M processor, 256MB of memory, and a 60GB hard drive. It ordinarily retails for $749.

To get the notebook, consumers paid $450 ($749 minus a $50 instant rebate and $250 of instant savings for signing up for AOL service). They could then qualify for a $300 mail-in rebate from CompUSA.

Consumers could also grab it without AOL service for $399.

"Without the AOL subscription it is still a good deal at $399," Bhavnani said.

The desktop came with a 17-inch CRT (cathode-ray tube) monitor, 256MB of memory, an 80GB hard drive and a CD-RW drive.

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