Gateway eyes a bigger slice of iMac pie

With the release of its Profile 4 models--new PCs built around a flat-panel monitor--Gateway renews its battle with Apple for consumer market share.

6 min read
Gateway will renew its battle with Apple Computer for consumer business next week with a new PC built around a flat-panel monitor.

Poway, Calif.-based Gateway confirmed Monday that it plans to release its new Profile 4 systems on Aug. 26, the same day that Intel, sources say, is scheduled to launch the 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor. Six Profile 4 models will be available, with prices ranging from $999 to $1,999.

The new Profile 4 models are priced to compete with Apple's flat-panel iMac, which also is built around a liquid-crystal display (LCD) monitor. Apple unveiled the 15-inch flat-panel iMac in January, adding a 17-inch flat-panel model in July.

"Gateway is going after the popularity of the LCD in the all-in-one space--and that's where Apple rules," said ARS analyst Toni Duboise. "There's no doubt about it. These systems are priced to compete directly with Apple."

Profile 4 is the result of Gateway's recent platinum PC redesign, which uses a design reminiscent of Apple's Titanium PowerBook. Gateway plans to launch a splashy advertising campaign next week around Profile 4 and the new design.

Gateway got into the all-in-one business with its original Profile PC in June 1999, released shortly after Apple's first iMac system. The new model comes nearly two years after the release of Profile 3. Gateway retrofitted some older Profile PCs with touch-screens for use during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

Profile 4's predecessors were fixed systems, meaning consumers could only buy the configurations offered by Gateway. But the new all-in-one will be configurable, giving buyers the opportunity to beef up the processor, hard drive and some other components.

Gateway plans to offer four basic consumer and two business models.

The high-end consumer all-in-one, the Profile 4XL, will come with a 2.66GHz Pentium 4 processor, 17-inch flat-panel monitor, 512MB of double-data rate (DDR) SDRAM, 120GB hard drive, CD-RW/DVD combo drive, USB 2.0 and Windows XP Home. It's priced at $1,999. The 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor is available as a $150 upgrade.

The midrange model, the Profile 4X, would pack a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 processor, 17-inch flat-panel monitor, 256MB of DDR SDRAM, 40GB hard drive, CD-RW drive and Windows XP Home for $1,499. For the same price, the Profile 4SE Cash and Carry is nearly identical but with a smaller 15-inch flat-panel monitor and larger 60GB hard drive. The $999 entry-level model, the Profile 4SE comes with a 1.7GHz Celeron processor, 15-inch flat-panel monitor, 128MB of memory, CD-ROM drive and Windows XP Home.

The two business systems, which also could appeal to some consumers, come with Windows XP Professional rather than the Home edition of the operating system. The higher-end Profile, the 4LS, fits in between the X and XL models. It comes with a 2.53GHz Pentium 4 processor, 17-inch flat-panel monitor, 256MB of DDR SDRAM, 80GB hard drive and CD-ROM drive for $1,899. The entry-level business all-in-one, the Profile 4L, comes with a 2GHz Pentium 4 processor, 15-inch flat-panel monitor, 20GB hard drive and CD-ROM drive for $1,499.

Read more about Gateway and flat panels

The pricing of the systems seem to be aimed more at Apple than at other competitors, said analysts. Apple's high-end iMac, selling for $1,999, comes with an 800MHz PowerPC G4 processor, a 17-inch wide-screen flat-panel display, 256MB of SDRAM, an 80GB hard drive, a DVD recording drive and Mac OS X. The $1,499 model comes with a 700MHz PowerPC G4 processor, a 15-inch flat-panel monitor, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a CD-RW/DVD combo drive and Mac OS X. The entry-level model, at $1,299, is nearly identical but comes with only 128MB of SDRAM and a CD-RW drive.

Gateway has closely matched two of the iMac model's prices, while offering processors with greater clock speed or more extras, say analysts. The Profile 4XL comes with twice the memory of the high-end iMac and a hard drive that is one-third larger. The X model is nearly identical in memory and storage to the $1,499 iMac, but offers a larger monitor. The 4SE's biggest advantage is price: $300 less than the low-end iMac.

The 4LS matches the price of the $1,899 iMac--with an 800MHz PowerPC G4 processor, 15-inch flat-panel monitor, 256MB of SDRAM, 60GB hard drive and CD-RW/DVD combo drive--with a larger display and beefier hard drive. Gateway also offers three models at the crucial $1,499 price vs. one for iMac.

Differences matter
Both Apple and Gateway have a high profile with consumers and operate retail stores for promoting or hawking their wares. But Apple has some advantages over its PC rival.

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Gateway Profile 4 series info

Two of Apple's four flat-panel iMacs come with DVD recording drives--or SuperDrives--and last week the company added the technology to its $1,499 eMac, an all-in-one computer built around a cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitor. In fact, "about 50 percent of our iMac customers buy up to the SuperDrive," said Greg Joswiak, Apple's senior director of worldwide hardware product marketing.

None of the Profile 4 models come with DVD recording drives, nor does Gateway offer the technology as an upgrade, sources said.

"It's a mistake not to have the DVD rewritable drives," Duboise chided. "That's the one advantage Apple is going to hold over them. The all-in-one Profile is a multimedia-enhanced machine, and without that DVD rewritable a big piece is missing."

The design of the Profile 4 systems cannot accommodate the size of a DVD recording drive, sources said. Much could change later in the year when Pioneer Electronics releases a smaller version of its DVD-R/RW drive suitable for notebooks. That drive may have the ability to fit into Profile 4. Apple also offers the Pioneer DVD recording drive on eMac, flat-panel iMac and the Power Mac. Last week, Apple released a new version of Power Mac, the company's professional system, with twin processors ranging up to 1.25GHz.

Apple also may be able to convince future customers that the iMac has superior graphics. Three of the iMac models come with 32MB Nvidia GeForce2 MX graphics accelerators, and the top-of-the-line system packs the higher-end GeForce4 MX. All six Profile 4 models use the 32MB Nvidia GeForce2 MX400. Apple could claim the advantage on the high-end iMac over the high-end Profile 4.

Duboise faulted Gateway for offering only a CD-ROM drive on three of the Profile 4s and the CD-RW/DVD combo drive on one model. The flat-panel iMacs include at the low end a CD-RW drive, CD-RW/DVD combo drive at the higher price and DVD recording drives on the two top models.

Gateway does have one advantage over Apple: Timing. Apple launched iMac during a LCD supply crisis, which contributed to an early shortage of the trendy computer and compelled the company to raise prices by $100 in March. Gateway, by contrast, will benefit from falling LCD prices, in a reverse of a 10-month trend.

Waging a price war
Profile 4 isn't Gateway's only weapon in its arsenal for combating Apple. The PC maker has taken a slash-and-burn approach to selling computers with connecting flat-panel monitors. The Gateway 500S, for example, comes with 17-inch LCD monitor for just $1,299. A year ago, the monitor alone would have cost the same price or more.

"That's killer," Duboise said. "It's clear Gateway is waging a price war here and wants to dominate the computer with LCD monitor space. That's not good news for Apple, or anyone else."

The 500S comes with a 2GHz Pentium 4 processor, 256MB of SDRAM, 80GB hard drive and CD-RW drive, besides the 17-inch LCD monitor. Duboise noted that Gateway sold the system for $1,554 at the beginning of August.

"This price is unbelievable and can only be in response to the 17-inch iMac Apple launched last month," Duboise said. She noted that a consumer would typically pay anywhere from $560 to $800 more for a 17-inch flat-panel display purchased with a configurable system.

Gateway's advantage just isn't over Apple. The 500S is $400 less than a similarly configured Dell 4500S, which would sell for $1,699, Duboise noted.

Gateway spokesman Brad Williams said, "We price against many competitors, not just any one."