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Christmas Gift Guide
Desktops

PC makers begin holiday desktop onslaught

No, apparently it's not too early to think about holiday shopping. Gateway, HP and others are prepping new PCs for store shelves.

Now that fall is here, PC makers have begun updating their consumer-oriented desktop models for the holiday season.

Gateway has introduced three new eMachines desktop models, which will begin appearing in stores this weekend, the company said. Hewlett-Packard has also updated several of its HP Pavilion and Compaq Presario desktops, which it sells at retail stores and directly to customers.

Notebooks have been hot sellers at retail stores, posting large year-over-year unit sales increases. But desktops, especially those that sell for less than $1,000, still account for more overall unit sales. Desktops that have favorable mixtures of features and prices will constitute a major part of PC makers' efforts to woo customers and maintain or increase sales during the holiday season.

Gateway's latest eMachines models follow the brand's tradition of offering PCs priced at $399, $499 and $599, after rebates. However, the latest models generally offer faster processors or larger hard drives than before.

The eMachines' T2862 model, which costs $449 before a $50 rebate, includes an Intel 2.66GHz Celeron D 330 processor, 256MB of RAM and a combination CD burner/DVD-ROM drive, along with a 60GB hard drive and an 8-in-1 memory card reader, which can read a number of memory card formats, including those used by PDAs and cameras, for example, allowing a PC to download data from many devices. Previously, eMachines' $399 model offered a Celeron D 325 and a 40GB hard drive.

eMachines' T2984 adds a 2.93GHz Celeron D 340, 512MB of SDRAM and an 80GB hard drive, as well as separate CD burner and DVD-ROM drives for $549 before a $50 mail-in rebate.

Both of these desktops use the graphics processors built into their chipsets by Intel.

The eMachines T3256 desktop pairs an Advanced Micro Devices Athlon XP processor with Nvidia's GeForce4 MX chipset. It includes an Athlon XP 3200+ processor, 512MB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive, along with a dual-format DVD burner, a separate CD-ROM drive and an 8-in-1 memory card reader. It sells for $599, and a rebate is not offered.

Since it acquired eMachines in March, Gateway has been working to establish a broader presence at retail stores, where the company intends to maintain both computer brands, offering eMachines models at prices of up to about $600 and Gateway machines at prices of about $700 and higher.

Gateway, which already sells several Gateway-brand desktops and notebooks at retail locations, is likely to add a few more Gateway-brand models this year, company executives have indicated. The company is also preparing to begin offering its direct-sales consumer customers the ability to custom configure Gateway-brand PCs again. Right now, the company offers them several different preconfigured models.

While Gateway represents this year's up-and-comer in the retail arena, companies like Hewlett-Packard aren't likely to give up any market share without a fight.

For its part, HP has quietly refreshed a number of its HP Pavilion and Compaq Presario consumer desktops over the last few weeks. The company has launched, for example, a new family of Pavilion a700 desktops, which come with Intel Celeron D, AMD Sempron or AMD Athlon XP processors.

The AMD Sempron machines start at $339, and the Intel Celeron machines start at $349 when purchased through HP's HPshopping.com.

A Pavilion a710e with a Sempron 2800+, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a CD burner, a 9-in-1 memory card reader and a set of speakers comes to $419, after an instant $50 rebate. HP offers an additional $50 mail-in rebate, which brings the price down to $369.

A Pavilion a700n model that's similar to eMachines' T3256, as shown on Best Buy's Web site, comes with an Athlon XP 3000+, 512MB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, a combination CD burner/DVD-ROM and a 9-in-1 memory card reader for $609, before rebates.

Dell has also beefed up its low-end Dimension desktop recently, unveiling the Dimension 3000. The desktop comes with a 2.4GHz Celeron D 320, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a CD-ROM for $449.

None of the desktops listed includes a monitor, for which prices vary widely. A 17-inch display, for example, ranges in price from as little as $50 for a CRT monitor to about $400 for an LCD.