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The Linux Store drops PC prices

Declining chip prices from AMD and Intel have allowed the Linux Store to lower prices on its low-priced, Linux-based computers, and another price cut is due next week.

Declining chip prices from AMD and Intel have allowed the Linux Store to lower prices on its low-priced, Linux-based computers, and another price cut is due next week, the company said today.

The company cut prices today on several systems costing less than $1,000, though not on its cheapest configuration, the best-selling $495 Ion model. But the Linux Store will begin selling a $399 stripped-down machine Monday as part of an exclusive deal with an as-yet-undisclosed Internet retailer, said chief information officer John Wise.

Linux, an operating system based on Unix but with increasingly developed, and easier to use, graphical interfaces, is popular for use as a server for tasks such as delivering Web pages, but several companies are billing the operating system as good for cheap consumer systems as well. One reason: Manufacturers don't have to pay a licensing fee to Microsoft for its Windows system.

However, Linux is criticized for lacking hardware support as comprehensive as Windows', and mainstream software such as games and Intuit Quicken aren't available.

Several companies are getting into the low-cost Linux market, including Penguin Computing, IndyBox, Sunset Systems, Next-Dimension Computing Systems, and the Computing Underground.

While the Linux market is expanding, the machines aren't selling at the rate of more mainstream computers. Top-ranked Compaq Computer, for example, shipped about 500,000 PCs a month during the first quarter of the year.

A spokesman for Dell, which sells Linux preinstalled on servers, workstations, and business PCs, said Linux system sales "still are a very, very, very small percent in comparison to systems with Windows."

Still, they're selling better than expected, Wise said. The company had predicted sales of 30 to 50 systems a month, but instead got three or four times the business, he said. The company even pulled its advertising temporarily to try to keep up with demand.

One thing Linux has that Windows lacks, though, is the Beowulf technique of ganging together multiple computers to tackle big number-crunching jobs. The Linux Store began selling its Beowulf systems Monday, Wise said.

The Linux Store is part of CPU Micromart, a manufacturer of generic "white-box" computers. Its Linux systems use Red Hat's version of Linux.

The company was able to cut costs because AMD and Intel lowered chip prices, the Linux Store began offering models with no sound card and modem, and because of dropping memory prices, Wise said. "RAM prices, though some people have talked about them going up, have actually gone down," he said.

The Linux systems come with free technical support during business hours on weekdays, Wise said.