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Acer aspires to lead low-cost laptop race

The Acer Aspire One is the PC maker's long-rumored entry into low-cost computing market.

After months as the subject of speculation in the media, Acer will introduce its own low-cost mini-notebook PC at the Computex trade show in Taipei on Tuesday.

The device will be called the Acer Aspire One, as expected. It will come with an Intel Atom processor, and run Linpus Linux Lite, with Acer's own user interface. Other specs include: an 8GB solid-state drive, 512MB of RAM, 802.11 b/g WiFi, an 8.9-inch screen, and a standard 3-hour battery.

Acer Aspire One
Acer Aspire One will begin at $379. Acer

The Aspire One will be available beginning July 2 for $379. Later that month, a version running Windows XP Home Edition with an 80GB hard drive, and 1GB of RAM will be available, though the pricing details on that have yet to be ironed out.

As this niche of computing begins to become more crowded, the specs are beginning to look more or less the same. Price and little details like keyboard and exterior design are going to be the most distinguishing factors.

At $379, the Aspire One is cheaper than the runaway hit Eee PC from Asus, whose 9-inch version begins at $549 for the Linux version, and the $499 Linux-based Hewlett-Packard Mini-Note. (CNET has not yet reviewed the Aspire One, but stay tuned.)

Besides pearl white, Acer also plans to offer a bright blue version, and eventually pink and brown. The keyboard isn't quite as large as the Mini-Note's 92 percent keyboard, coming in at 89 percent of the standard size keyboard for a 14-inch notebook.

But just like its direct competitors, Acer sees two distinct customers for the Aspire One: school kids and the highly mobile tech-savvy set.

Acer's plan it seems is to use its Aspire One as sort of a gateway-PC (No pun intended.) for the uninitiated PC user.

"It's a great device that is a stepping stool to a first-time notebook user," said Sumit Agnihotry, director of notebook product management for Acer America. That way kids can "bypass the desktop completely (and move) to a notebook in less than 18 months."

And if there's something Acer's gotten good at lately, it's moving notebooks. It sells more notebooks than every other computer maker except for HP.

Acer says it sees the mini-notebook as a third device for geeked-out consumers after a smartphone and a standard notebook PC, claiming that "it's much more a single application with an Internet-centric focus," Agnihotry said.

But is it more devices we're after? Or fewer? The genius of the smartphone is how much it can do. With the $379 price point not all that far removed from some of Acer's more inexpensive full-size notebooks, is selling someone on the lack of features of the Aspire One really the way to win customers?

It's clearly not for the mainstream PC users, who generally expect the best features and latest-generation processors when purchasing a new PC. But the company doesn't seem to see any overlap between those customers, saying it doesn't expect this will "cannibalize" its current notebook business at all.