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With new notebook, Dell says 'game on'

The PC maker launches the Inspiron XPS, a notebook designed for game enthusiasts. It's hoping the high-priced machine will appeal especially to those willing to go to extremes.

Dell has put its latest Inspiron notebook PC into the game.

As expected, the Round Rock, Texas-based PC maker launched the Inspiron XPS, a notebook designed for PC games, at a Thursday evening event in San Francisco.

The Inspiron XPS for enthusiasts, such as PC gamers, who desire a high-performance computer with easy portability, Dell said. The system can be ordered with Intel's game-oriented Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor.

Dell has offered a Dimension XPS game desktop since April 2003 and been pleased with its sales, according to Michael Dell, the company's CEO. But the Inspiron XPS will offer greater mobility, addressing a general trend among consumers toward notebooks, while offering the same processors as those found on the desktop. As it has done with its XPS desktop, Dell is hoping to attract some big spenders to the XPS notebook, whose price can top $5,000.

"We've been extremely pleased with the performance of the Dimension XPS. There will be a number of new products that are focused on that part of the market--the high-end part of the market--it's a great part of the business for us," Dell said during a Thursday night conference call to discuss the company's fourth-quarter earnings with reporters.

Because enthusiasts demand better-than-average performance and top-of-the-line processors, graphics cards and other components, Dell will pack the Inspiron XPS with Intel's 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition chip and ATI Technologies' Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics card, which comes with 128MB of on-board memory. The Extreme Edition Pentium comes with an extra 2MB of cache memory, which helps boost its performance, Intel says.

Enthusiasts are also generally willing to pay more for a PC than most consumers, allowing PC makers to generate higher profits, even though they typically sell fewer game machines.

The Inspiron XPS starts at a base price of $2,849, before rebates and special offers. That price includes a 15.4-inch wide-angle display with UXGA resolution, a standard 3.4GHz Pentium 4, 512MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive, the Mobility Radeon 9700 card, a DVD burner and a basic, 1-year warranty. It weighs in at a hefty 9 pounds.

Fitting the notebook with the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition chip adds $798, boosting its price to $3,726. Meanwhile, increasing the RAM to its maximum of 2GB, adding a higher-capacity battery and installing wireless networking increases the price to $5,644, according to Dell's Web site. (Those prices include a 1-year warranty with at-home service. Selecting a 1-year warranty with mail-in service drops each price by $79.)

Because enthusiasts expect more for their PC dollar, Dell will also offer a graphics upgrade program, under which customers will be able to move to higher-performance graphics boards in the future. Dell will also offer Inspiron XPS customers dedicated tech support and a choice of one of three snap-on color panel kits and a special backpack, the company said.

Dell isn't the only PC maker on the hunt for enthusiasts. A number of manufacturers offer or plan to offer notebooks that are similar to the Inspiron XPS.

Hewlett-Packard, for example, plans to begin offering the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor in its Pavilion zd7000 notebook next week. Customers opting for the 3.2GHz version of the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition will pay a $650 premium over a standard 3.2GHz Pentium 4, the company said. A Pavilion zd7000 with the 3.2GHz chip starts at about $1,725, before rebates, according to the HPshopping.com Web site.

Alienware also offers the Extreme Edition Pentium in its Area-51m extreme notebook.

Meanwhile, other PC makers offer a wide range of performance notebooks with standard Pentium 4 chips or Advanced Micro Devices' mobile Athlon 64 processors. The notebooks, which are advertised as replacements for desktop PCs, instead of game machines, generally cost less than a machine such as the Inspiron XPS, as they use less-expensive components.

eMachines' M6807 notebook, for example, comes with a 15.4-inch wide screen, AMD's mobile Athlon 64 3000+ processor, 512MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive and a DVD burner. It starts at $1,649, before rebates.