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IBM hits 350 MHz with K6 box

Big Blue's releases its newest Aptiva, boasting a 450-MHz Pentium II system, and a lower-cost box using a 350-MHz K6 chip.

IBM refreshed its Aptiva consumer computer line with a 450-MHz Pentium II system aimed at users itching for performance and released a more cost-conscious desktop built around the new 350-MHz K6-2 processor from Advanced Micro Devices.

Code-named Cobra and officially styled the SE7, the top-of-the-line desktop represents IBM's renewed attempt to win over luxury computer buyers.

In 1997, IBM released its Stealth series of black, high-performance consumer computers, which strongly emphasized industrial design. Unfortunately, 1997 was the year consumers decided to go cheap with sub-$1,000 PCs, and IBM lost market share, a slide which it began to reverse this year by pushing inexpensive computers housed in a standard beige case.

IBM Cobra
IBM Cobra
Like Stealth, Cobra comes with a black case but avoids some of the other earlier product's pitfalls, which included a overly-complicated design which split the box into two separate components.

So, rather than design, the system plays up its technological features. For $2,399, the SE7 comes with Intel's fastest Pentium II processor, a whopping 128MB of memory, and a 16.8GB hard drive, which is one of the largest hard drives on desktops today.

For about $1,000 more, consumers can get a 15-inch IBM flat panel LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor. Most flat panels at that price point have been smaller 14-inch versions.

"Now that we have delivered a superior sub-$1,000 PC, we feel it is very important to readdress the needs of the higher end of the PC marketplace," said Brian Connors, vice president, IBM Aptiva brand, in a prepared statement.

Initially, IBM is releasing one Cobra model, but for mainstream consumers, Big Blue is also incorporating the spanking-new 350-MHz K6-2 chip from AMD into a new model.

In addition to being the Intel rival's fastest product, the new chip uses a 100-MHz system bus and also comes with AMD's 3DNow technology, which accelerates 3D graphics performance on some systems.

The Aptiva E4N, priced at $1,299, further incorporates 64MB of memory, an 8.0GB hard drive, and a graphics subsystem.

AMD has made significant market share gains this year in the retail computing market against rivals Intel and Cyrix. Although chip dealers and retailers have reported sporadic shortages of K6 and K6-2 processors, chip supply, a problem for AMD last year, has improved.

Prices, meanwhile, have remained below Intel's for comparable processor speeds. Along with IBM, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard have incorporated AMD chips for their consumer lines.

Systems based around the 350-MHz chip are expected to sell for around $1,200, according to retail sources. Other vendors are also expected to announce products, or at least support, for the 350-MHz K6-2.