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Pentium II PCs coming cheap

Packard Bell NEC introduces five low-priced, high-speed models, including a 266-MHz Pentium II system for $1,899.

Packard Bell NEC introduced five low-priced, high-speed models targeting the so-called SOHO (small office/home) market, including a 266-MHz Pentium II system for $1,899.

The Sacramento, California-based manufacturer reemphasized its traditional focus on the value-oriented consumer, particularly with the introduction of its Platinum 4500. The high-speed Intel-based machine comes with 64MB of memory, a 6.4GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive, a 56-kbps modem, and software for home users, such as the Quicken personal finance program and Microsoft's Word.

The announcement adds to a fast-growing list of systems with Pentium II chips running at 266 and 300 MHz being offered below the $2,000 price point. Compaq, Gateway, and others also offer models at or below this price, evidence of the fact that Intel has been forced to discount the price of its top-of-the-line processor much sooner than normal.

For the burgeoning sub-$1,000 market, Packard Bell introduced the R515, with a 200-MHz Pentium MMX processor, 32MB of memory, and bundled software for $999. This time last year, the offering would have been exceptional, but during the course of 1997 Compaq exploited the low-cost segment to boost sales, forcing rivals Packard Bell, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard as well as lesser PC manufacturers to chime in.

According to one survey, Packard Bell inched ahead of Compaq in U.S. retail computer sales for October, but most industry analysts continue to show the Houston manufacturer leading the sub-$1,000 market. Unlike Compaq, IBM, and HP, Packard Bell principally sells to the low end of the PC industry, through retail outlets such as CompUSA.

Separately, NEC Computer, the North American arm of Japan's NEC Corporation, which owns a 49 percent stake in Packard Bell NEC, announced four Pentium II systems priced below $2,000.

The 9870 model, with a top-of-the-line 300-MHz processor, 64MB of memory, a 6.4GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive, and a 56-kbps modem, will retail for an estimated $1,999. The 9840, similarly configured except for its 233-MHz Pentium II chip, will go for $1,299.