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Emachines shows off latest PC fashions

The No. 3 PC retailer launches a new spring lineup of desktop systems, shedding its "beige box" styling while holding the line on prices.

Emachines launched a new spring lineup of PCs on Wednesday, shedding its "beige box" styling while holding the line on prices.

Emachines' PCs have proved popular with consumers because of their modest prices, which typically are at least $100 lower than those of competing models. The company's sales have been brisk enough for it to maintain the No. 3 spot at retail.

But the Irvine, Calif.-based company hasn't always kept up with the latest fashions in desktop PCs. Hewlett-Packard's Pavilion and Compaq Computer's Presario, the two top-selling desktop PCs at retail, have offered two-tone color schemes and snap-on panels that allow owners to change the color of their machine for some time. HP and Compaq have also added more functions to their designs, such as moving universal serial bus (USB) ports to the front of the PC for easier access.

While price and what's inside the machine are key, the new black and silver motif of Emachines' latest models should make them more aesthetically pleasing, analysts said, and therefore more competitive with HP and Compaq models.

Being more competitive is what the company is aiming for.

"The premium look and feel of our new design...places us on par with any PCs currently on the market at a significantly lower price," Wayne Inouye, president and CEO of Emachines, said in a statement.

Just because a PC has a low price doesn't mean it should be boring-looking, said Steve Baker, an analyst with NPD Techworld.

"You can combine style and functionality to make it easier for people to use the products," he said. "I don't see what the downside could be to that."

Emachines typically offers PCs ranging in price from $399 to $699 after a $75 rebate. While it has maintained those prices and added faster processors in most new models, it did reduce the memory allotment in one PC.

The new T1150 offers a 1.3GHz Celeron processor and 128MB of memory compared with the 1.2GHz Celeron and 256MB of memory in the T1120 model it replaces. The T1150, which also offers a 40GB hard drive and a CD-Rewritable drive, sells for $499 after the $75 rebate.

Emachines also maintained the price and configuration of its entry-level T1140 desktop. That system includes a 1.1GHz Celeron processor, 128MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive and a CD-ROM drive for $399 after the rebate. The machine replaces the 1GHz T1115.

The company did the same with its new T1600, based on Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon XP 1600 chip. The machine, which includes 256MB of double data rate (DDR) SDRAM, a 40GB hard drive and a CD-RW drive, sells for $599 after the rebate. DDR SDRAM is a faster version of standard SDRAM available in some of eMachines' lower-priced PCs.

Emachines also introduced a new T4170 model, with a 1.6GHz Intel Pentium 4, 256MB of DDR SDRAM, a 60GB hard drive and CD-RW drive. It sells for $699 after the rebate.

In comparison, Compaq's newest Presario 4400US and 4410US desktops, both of which offer a 1.3GHz Celeron processor, 128MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive, start at $699 and $799, respectively. The less-expensive 4400US model comes with a CD-RW, while the 4410US offers both a CD-RW and a DVD-ROM drive.

Compaq's previous entry-level Presario PC, the 5400US, started at $569 with a 1.2GHz Celeron, 128MB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive.

The lack of a $599 PC could hurt Compaq. The company is "pretty likely" to lose sales opportunities without one, NPD Techworld's Baker said. Such machines help with advertising and provide a "foot in the door" to PC makers when it comes to consumers evaluating their PCs.

In addition, Baker said, "that's where the (sales) volume tends to be. You can move a lot of units on those under-$600 machines."

On the features front, Emachines' new desktops include access to two USB ports at the front of each machine via a door that slides up and out of the way. The company also added dual optical-drive bays on all new models, allowing buyers to add an extra drive such as a DVD, and a new Smart Stand-by sleep mode that idles the PC when a user is away. In addition, eMachines provides a new 250-watt power supply with a fan that it says is quieter.

The machines also come with a new proactive trouble-shooting application from BigFix. The application monitors the PC's hardware and software, offering fixes when problems arise.

Emachines says the PCs will be available at retail stores starting April 13 and 14.