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Sound cards delay some Dell PCs

An unexpected shortage of sound cards from Voyetra Turtle Beach is forcing Dell Computer to delay shipments of high-end consumer PCs.

An unexpected shortage of sound cards is forcing Dell Computer to delay shipments of certain configurations of its high-end consumer PCs.

Dell is warning customers that a limited supply of Santa Cruz sound cards from Voyetra Turtle Beach is prolonging delivery on some of its Dimension 8200, 4400 and 3800S desktops. New PCs with the card could take "more than 30 days to ship," according to Dell's Web site. Dell usually ships PCs within three to five business days.

The Round Rock, Texas-based PC maker has tried to notify customers with existing orders about the snag. However, at least some Dell customers are expressing frustration over the delay in e-mails to CNET and on Dell's DellTalk customer Web site. At least one customer canceled an order because of the delay, choosing a different Dell instead.

On Wednesday, a Dell representative confirmed the delay of more than 30 calendar days. In addition, a Voyetra Turtle Beach representative confirmed a shortage of the cards, citing higher-than-expected demand from Dell and retail stores.

"It's just a matter of cranking them out fast enough to meet demand," the Voyetra Turtle Beach representative said, adding that the Yonkers, N.Y.-based company expects to be able to meet demand within the next month.

Although consumers can order Dell PCs with other sound cards, Voyetra Turtle Beach's card is crucial for consumers who want to buy a top-of-the-line system from Dell. The card makes it possible to use high-end Altec Lansing ADA995 speakers with the desktops. The sound card and speakers, which are collectively a $300 upgrade, provide the PC with surround sound and also support THX, a sound system developed by Lucasfilm to provide realistic audio for movie theaters and home theater.

Other PC makers may also be affected by the shortage. IBM offers the sound card in certain NetVista desktops. IBM representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

The problem caused by the Santa Cruz sound card is the latest in a series of delays that have sporadically hit Dell's Dimension 8000 desktop line. Demand for the 8000 line has been greater than anticipated at times--a situation faced by other makers of deluxe consumer PCs as well.

Dell saw lead times on its 8200 with a 2GHz Intel Pentium 4 stretch to 40 days in November because of a shortage of the chip. After receiving a shipment of the chips, Dell filled those orders within a few days.

The year before, customers trying to buy certain configurations of the Dimension 8100 faced delivery delays during the holiday-shopping season because of component issues.

Meanwhile, other high-end components are currently causing less severe delivery snags for Dell. Dimension PCs fitted with a 15-inch flat-panel monitor--one of the hotter items in the consumer market today--are on lead times of 10 business days, and those with DVD+RW drives are on lead times of 18 business days, according to a notice posted last week on the DellTalk Web site.

Because Intel and others have integrated audio support into their chipsets, the sound card market is relatively small. No more than 15 percent of the audio market related to PCs is comprised of add-in cards, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. Voyetra Turtle Beach and Creative Labs are the main manufacturers of such cards.