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Tech Industry

Nintendo wins, PCs lose

Electronics retailers tally up which products have been good and which have been bad during the Christmas selling season.

With the last-minute Christmas rush officially over, electronics retailers tallied up today which products had been good and which had been bad.

As could be expected, gaming equipment sold well. But without a hot new product or technology to promote--like Windows 95 last year--sales of actual PCs were sluggish.

"The Nintendo 64 was the unprecedented leader. It ranked right up there with Tickle Me Elmo," said Laurie Bauer, a spokeswoman for Best Buy. "We were selling Nintendo 64s as soon as we got them."

A number of other retailers also reported strong sales among gaming equipment and gaming software, mostly notably Barbie Fashion Designer and Scrabble, Bauer said.

Small digital satellites for tapping into more TV channels sold better this holiday season than since their debut about two years ago, retailers said. Sales were helped considerably by a $200 programming rebate from Direct TV.

Set-top boxes for using a TV to log onto the Net, however, received mixed reviews from retailers.

One electronics retailer reported about selling 5 such set-top boxes during December, while a Good Guys retail manager reported selling about 25 a week.

Among more traditional computing devices, personal digital assistants were also big sellers, according to at least one retailer who said PDAs sold four to five times better this year than previous holiday seasons.

As for regular PCs, a majority of electronic retailers reported that sales were sluggish, a report consistent with earlier forecasts from market analysts who pointed out that the U.S. market for home PCs is already saturated.

"It was largely ho-hum from a PC standpoint," said Genni Combes, an analyst with Hambrecht & Quist.

Still, retailers did sell some home computers and the most popular models included Compaq Computer systems with 166-MHz microprocessors and Sony's 200-MHz models, retailers said.

A new entry to the market, the Monorail--a stripped-down system that offers a keyboard, color monitor, CD-ROM drive, and Microsoft Windows 95 installed for $999--was passing through the checkout stands about five times a week, said one retailer.

The success of the Monorail box may spell good news for a host of PC vendors who are planning to deliver "sealed-case" designs in 1997 that deliver basic features for a lower price but don't let users add in new hardware cards or memory.