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HP offers stripped-down $799 PC

Hewlett-Packard releases a new series of stripped-down PCs, as well as a Pentium II machine with recordable CD-ROM drive.

Continuing its effort to reach the cost-conscious customer, Hewlett-Packard today released a new series of "microtower" computers that start at $799, as well as a $2,199 400-MHz Pentium II machine with a recordable CD-ROM drive.

The new computers, which are part of HP's Brio family, do not feature the same plethora of options as HP's Vectra PCs--but that is the point, according to Jean-Jacques Ozil, marketing manager for Brio at HP.

A large number of customers, especially those in small business, do not take advantage of all the expandability (for example, extra internal slots for add-in circuit boards) or other capabilities on their PCs. By removing those features, HP can reduce the retail price.

"We are removing the bells and whistles and even more than that," Ozil said. "These customers are extremely sensitive to costs. With this price [$799], you don't pay for the future."

The HP Brio 7000 series is clearly short on whistles. The base configuration, which retails for $799, is based around the 266-MHz original "cacheless" Celeron processor and comes a 2.1GB hard drive and a Matrox G100 graphics chip. Versions including faster Celeron or Pentium II processors, as well as more memory and larger hard drives, are also available.

Additional 7000 series Brios that incorporate the fastest version of the Celeron, code-named Mendocino, will follow when that chip is released, said Eric Chaniot, product marketing manager for HP Brio. Mendocino will include 128K (kilobytes) of performance-enhancing cache memory and debut at 300 MHz and 333 MHz on August 24, said sources.

Although stripped of most extras, the Brio 7000 marks a breakthrough in form factor for HP, Ozil added. The 7000 is HP's first microtower, which is about half the size of a standard minitower. The unit stands about 11 inches high and is designed to save desk space.

The HP Brio 8000 Series, by contrast, comes with greater expandability and more features than the 7000, according to Chaniot. The 8000 comes with a 400-MHz Pentium II, 64MB of memory, a 10GB hard drive, and the 3D RagePro Turbo graphics chip from ATI for $2,199.

One of the system's more intriguing features is a recordable CD-ROM drive, which allows users to record information onto their own disks. A relatively expensive technology until recently, CD-R is becoming a more prevalent feature on PCs.