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AMD gets into the color PC mode

Advanced Micro Devices will swing into the fancy computer movement as computer manufacturers begin to release design-minded, colorful computers based around the company's chips.

Advanced Micro Devices will swing into the fancy computer movement this month when computer manufacturers begin to release design-minded, colorful computers based around the company's chips.

The new PCs, the latest attempt to capitalize on the color PC craze, will be aimed at style-conscious consumers on a budget. The systems will sport colored, translucent cases and novel designs, including an all-in-one design similar conceptually to Apple's iMac.

Apple will, of course, look at these systems closely. The company did not take kindly to other knockoffs of the iMac and filed a flurry of lawsuits.

Some of the new AMD-based systems will be relatively inexpensive because they will come with K6-2 chips, the company's budget chip, said Stephen Lapinski, director of product marketing at AMD. Some manufacturers, for instance, will release a small, ovalized K6-2 PC designed by AMD. The oval computers come with a CD-ROM drive and two USB ports, but lack built-in floppy drives, he added.

They will cost between $499 and $699, Lapinski said, not including monitor. Consumers will have a choice of four colors.

Despite fashion fever among manufacturers, however, it remains unclear whether customers will react with euphoria. Designer computers inherently cost more to manufacture, said Steve Baker, an analyst with PC Data, and hence cost more on store shelves.

"An all-in-one will always be more expensive than an equivalent desktop and monitor," he said. Small computers also have expense penalties.

Apple has succeeded with the iMac, Baker noted, but Apple also enjoys celebrity status with certain consumers. Sales of the iMac are likely attributable to the shape, but also to the fact that it came from Apple.

Other manufacturers have not seen the same sort of sales boost. The all-in-one systems with flat panel monitors have not sold in huge numbers, Baker said.

Meanwhile, the names of manufacturers for the fancy AMD systems have not been released; however, Packard Bell NEC is expected to be one of the companies coming out with systems in this vein, sources said.

This year's holiday season for electronics manufacturers will, if anything, be characterized by style. Earlier this week, Compaq and IBM released desktops and notebooks, respectively, characterized mostly by color and industrial design.

One interesting aspect of the trend is that it seems to span price points, at least for now. Later this fall, Mattel will start selling its Barbie and Hot Wheels-themed PCs. These machines will include Celeron processors and sell for $599.

On the other end of the spectrum, Dell is slated to release the "Webster," a code-name for an upscale unit that resembles a Krups coffeemaker. The Webster is expected to come with fairly high-end technology features, said sources.

PCs similar to the so-called Webster could emerge when Intel releases the "Coppermine" Pentium III chip. The chip, which will run at speeds of up to 733 MHz at launch, is expected to come out the week of October 25.

The ovalized K6-2 systems are AMD's stab at the "legacy" free PC, according to company executives. The system does not come with floppy drives, ISA ports, or other technology that become relatively obsolete in recent years, said Dana Krelle, vice president of marketing at AMD. By removing legacy technology, motherboards can be shrunk, which in turn leads to smaller computers.

The oval system was actually commissioned by AMD, he stated. The company owns the design and is licensing it to PC manufacturers on the condition that they use K6-2 chips inside it.