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Alienware tames its prices for home PC users

With its lowest-priced home PC to date, company shows desire to move beyond pricier game machines. Photo: The Bot, by Alienware

In an attempt to broaden its reach, PC maker Alienware has unveiled a stylishly chic, compact PC for home users.

The Miami-based company is best known for building extreme desktops for gamers--machines that cost thousands. But on Monday, Alienware hatched the Bot, a small desktop PC that starts at $579 after a $150 mail-in rebate. That's a fraction of what some of the company's highest-end machines cost.

The Bot, which Alienware says is the lowest-priced PC it has offered to date, was designed to offer home and home-office buyers a stylish machine for everyday computing tasks such as word processing and surfing the Web. The machine highlights the company's desire to tap a wider audience by expanding the number of PCs it sells.

"There was a demand from folks who couldn't afford $2,000 or $3,000 for an Alienware PC, and some of them might not have even wanted to pay $1,000," said Kevin O'Neill, desktop product manager for Alienware. "We wanted to offer those people in the home and home-office space...the opportunity to experience the Alienware brand."

Alienware, which manufactures its desktops in-house in Miami, lists the manufacturers of many of its components on its Web site.

Consumers purchasing the customizable Bot can choose between Intel's Celeron and Pentium 4 processors. The least expensive versions of the machine take advantage of the graphics and audio processing that come built into an Intel 915 chipset. The Bot can also be fitted with several different graphics and audio add-in cards, from ATI, Nvidia and Creative.

The Bot sports some of Alienware's distinct design features. Its silver and black case measures 13.6 inches deep, 5.4 inches wide and 13.8 inches high--about 2 inches shorter in every dimension than a standard desktop minitower--and its most basic configuration comes with a DVD drive and a relatively large 80GB, 7,200 rpm hard drive from Seagate.

Aside from its smaller-than-usual case, the Bot aims at style with accents such as doors that hide the PC's optical drives and ports when they're not in use.

For $579, the computer--which Alienware sells direct--also includes a 2.53GHz Intel Celeron D 325 processor, 256MB of RAM, Microsoft's Windows XP Home Edition operating system and a one-year warranty. Stepping up to a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 520 and 512MB of RAM ups the Bot's price to $754. Adding a 15-inch Benq LCD monitor increases the total to $1,013 after the mail-in rebate, according to Alienware's site. The company is currently offering free shipping.

For those looking for more computing power, Alienware also offers Hyperspeed and Lightspeed desktops, which come with AMD Athlon and Intel Pentium 4 and Celeron processors, respectively, and start at $899 each.

Still, competing against the likes of Dell and Hewlett-Packard may be tough for the smaller Alienware.

That's because Dell and HP typically apply a series of discounts, rebates, and free component upgrades to help boost the appeal of their desktops. The companies also offer free shipping.

This week, Dell is offering a 15 percent discount, free RAM upgrade, and free upgrade to a 15-inch LCD, or liquid crystal display, monitor with its Dimension 4700c, a small desktop for homes and home offices.

Although a Bot with a Pentium 4 is less expensive than Dell's Dimension 4700c when matched component-to-component, the free monitor upgrade gives Dell the upper hand for customers looking for a PC and monitor combination. The Dimension 4700c fitted with a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 520, 512MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive and a DVD drive clocked in at $790 on Monday afternoon, according to Dell's site. Its price rises to $832 after selecting the free 15-inch LCD monitor upgrade.