Will Wal-Mart sell $398 notebooks, desktops?

Attention shoppers. You might want to get into that Wal-Mart parking lot early on the day after Thanksgiving.

Wal-Mart and Hewlett-Packard will likely celebrate this Thanksgiving season by attempting to crush their competitors with low-price desktops and notebooks, according to a Web site that tracks bargains.

Black Friday 2005, which posts information about retail deals, posted scans of what appear to be future Wal-Mart newspaper inserts featuring a $398 laptop and a $398 desktop with an LCD monitor from HP. The notebook deal, if consummated, would represent a new low in price for mainstream Windows laptops.

The laptop in the ad comes with a 2800+ Sempron processor from Advanced Micro Devices, 256MB of memory, a 40GB hard drive, a CD-RW/DVD drive and a 15-inch screen.

The desktop, meanwhile, comes with a 3000+ Sempron, 512MB of memory, a 40GB drive and a 15-inch LCD.

The upcoming computers will likely be among several bargains touted on so-called Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that remains the biggest U.S. shopping day of the year.

The expected Wal-Mart deals are "pretty aggressive," said Steve Baker, an analyst at The NPD Group. "But it sure as hell won't be the last $399 notebook or the only one on Black Friday."

Black Friday 2005 does not reveal its sources, and stated that retail deals can change before they come out. Nonetheless, the site noted that it has a good probability of success. Baker and others have also said that PC makers would be extremely aggressive in pricing by the end of the year. During the summer, Baker said that $499 laptops would become somewhat common by the holidays.

"We think it is probably legitimate," said John Spindler, who covers retail bargains at consulting firm Current Analysis.

HP declined to comment on future PC models and the pricing strategy of retailers and Wal-Mart could not be reached for comment.

HP has been somewhat aggressive this year in cutting prices in the retail market. Right before the back-to-school season, the company released after rebates. Before that, some companies, including Wal-Mart, sold $499 laptops, but they typically came with processors from Via, as well as Linux operating systems.

Acer, Toshiba and other manufacturers soon followed with similar deals that lasted brief periods.

HP also touted $199 desktops at some retailers, but for very short periods of time and with restrictions.

Partly as a result, HP also stopped losing ground to rival Dell in the third quarter. The two companies saw shipments grow at about the same rate , a phenomenon that hadn't occured for several quarters.

Wal-Mart needs to be aggressive this holiday season, said Baker. For the last two years, the company has come out with somewhat pedestrian offers for the holiday season, and not experienced a huge bump in sales.

What makes the possible offer particularly interesting is that Wal-Mart often will stock 50 to 100 of its "special deal" PCs in each store. By contrast, some retailers will sometimes stock only a token number of advertised specials in each store.

"There could be a couple of hundred thousand of these on shelves," Baker said. "They (Wal-Mart) certainly learned their lesson from last year."

Although often thought of as a purveyor of fishing waders and household appliances, Wal-Mart is also one of the largest PC retailers in the nation, often ranking as No. 2.

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    Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.

     

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