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Mattel dolls up PCs with Barbie, Hot Wheels touches

The toy maker, in partnership with PC manufacturer Patriot Computers, will introduce the theme computers this fall.

Mattel is launching a computer line for children based on its most popular toys.

Mattel, in partnership with PC maker Patriot Computers, will introduce computers with Barbie and Hot Wheels themes this fall.

With this move, Mattel finds itself at the intersection of the cheap PC phenomenon and the trend toward more compelling industrial design for computers, while also finding a novel way to distribute its popular educational and entertainment software.

Starting in September, Barbie- and Hot Wheels-branded computers from Patriot will be available for $14.98 per month, or $599. These systems, while not offering the hottest technology or the lowest price available, will still probably find a market in parents looking for an entry-level second computer, analysts say.

"I don't think they're going to take the industry by storm," said Schelley Olhava, an analyst at market research firm International Data Corporation. "But there is probably a niche audience who would be interested in this for their kids." Mattel has previously introduced Barbie-branded printers.

The Barbie computer comes in silver with "pink and purple floral accents," according to Mattel. The bundle includes 15-inch monitor, 333-MHz Intel Celeron chip, and a Barbie digital camera, mouse, and CD holder. In addition, Mattel is including its popular software titles like Barbie Super Sports and Barbie Cool Looks.

"Certainly it is an opportunity to put their software on PCs without making people buy it," Olhava said. "That's another compelling feature, although normally, people don't buy PCs because of software bundles."

The Hot Wheels bundle also includes 15-inch monitor and 333-MHz Celeron, and its decorated with the "famous flame logo" found on the toy cars, according to Mattel, as well as a Hot Wheels steering wheel controller and mouse. The software titles bundled in the package include Hot Wheels Stunt Track Driver.

Both bundles include educational software from The Learning Company, as well, a company spokesperson said. "Both have similar educational titles," she said.

The computers are based on an Intel Celeron that was released almost a year ago, noted Olhava, who speculated that Mattel's offering is also the first "themed" PC to be released.

While not ground-breaking in terms of design or performance, the computers do represent industry progress in marketing more attractive packages. Apple Computer has achieved significant success with its iMac system, but Mattel's is one of the first "Wintel" PCs to emphasize cosmetics. Wintel refers to the powerful partnership between Microsoft Windows and Intel.

The bundles, targeted specifically at girls or boys, do present a unique marketing problem, the Mattel spokesperson conceded: Which system do families with both a boy and a girl purchase? "This opens up the opportunity to create a neutral-branded PC," she said.