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Gateway touts chic yet cheap PCs

Attention Oakland Raiders fans: Your PC is here. Gateway has adopted a sleek black and silver look that it plans to use throughout its desktop line.

Attention Oakland Raiders fans: Your PC is here.

Gateway announced Monday a set of low-end consumer computers that adopt the sleek, new black and silver styling that the direct PC seller plans to use throughout its desktop line. The Poway, Calif.-based company added the new design to its business desktops last week.

The $599 Gateway 300SE comes with a 1.3GHz Celeron processor, 128MB of SDRAM, a 20GB hard drive, a 15-inch color monitor, and a year of free AOL service. For a limited time, Gateway is throwing in a CD burner as well.

A higher-end model, the 300X, comes with a 15-inch flat-panel LCD, a 1.8GHz Celeron processor, 256MB of double data rate SDRAM, a 40GB hard drive, and a combination drive that can play DVD movies and burn CDs. The 300X is priced at $1,099. That compares favorably to Apple Computer's $1,399 iMac, which comes with a similar hard drive but less memory and without DVD abilities. Gateway had been selling a flat-panel equipped desktop for $999, but that model contained a CD burner rather than the combination drive that can also play DVD movies, among other differences.

Other PC makers, including Emachines, have also tweaked their product lineup to prepare for the fall. Apple often introduces new products and pricing moves at the twice-yearly Macworld Expo events, and the summer show takes place next week in New York.

Next to the holidays, the back-to-school season has traditionally been the best time for PC sales, but the period has not seen the same improvement in the past couple of years as it did historically.

Last week, Merrill Lynch cut its 2002 forecast for the PC industry, saying it now expects unit sales to inch up just 2.5 percent over last year, down from its earlier prediction of 10.5 percent growth.

"The back-to-school market, which usually helps the September quarter, has not materialized to a great degree the past two years and may disappoint this year once again," the brokerage said in a research note.