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Apple to debut $2,000 G3 notebook

The company readies an assault on the low-cost notebook market with a high-performance PowerBook for less than $2,000.

Apple Computer (AAPL) is readying an assault on the burgeoning market for low-cost notebook computers with a sub-$2,000 portable that uses the high-performance PowerPC 750 processor found in the company's $5,600 PowerBook G3 notebook.

The new PowerBook G3/233 isn't expected to be available until May, sources said. Anticipating a warm welcome, however, some resellers are already taking orders.

Analysts expect that notebooks priced under $2,000 in retail superstores will be the largest growth market this year as more consumers will finally be able to afford new technologies. Previously most notebooks priced in this range were discontinued models.

A number of PC computer vendors have already jumped on the low-cost bandwagon in an effort to boost sales, and it appears Apple is closely following suit. In the past, Apple has been slow to jump on PC industry sales trends, such as the low-cost phenomenon.

Apple's new notebook will ship with a 233-MHz PowerPC 750 processor, a 12.1-inch dual-scan display, 16MB of memory, and a 20X CD-ROM for $1,999, features that place it squarely among price competition from vendors of Windows-based computers.

Toshiba, the notebook market's sales leader, earlier this year introduced a new portable with a 12.1-inch dual-scan LCD screen, a 2GB hard disk drive, a 16X CD-ROM drive, and a 166-MHz Pentium MMX processor for an estimated street price of $1,699. Compaq is offering a similarly configured notebook.

While Apple's system is priced higher, the G3 processor is said to outperform a Pentium MMX of equivalent clock speed in some operations. And notebooks containing 233-MHz Pentium MMX processors cost significantly more. Generally, such notebooks start at around $2,900 and can go as high as $5,000. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)

Also, high-end G3 notebooks will perform better than the G3/233 because of the addition of secondary "cache" memory that's directly connected to the processor, to keep it fed with a fast and steady stream of data.

The G3/233 notebook will be a significant new product for Apple, which hasn't really courted the low-cost segment. For instance, the company currently has no sub-$1,000 desktop PC offerings, a segment that now constitutes nearly 40 percent of the overall PC sales.

Apple does offer some notebooks for under $2,000. In February, the company cut prices up to $1,000 on a number of PowerBook systems, but they have a smaller display and use the slower PowerPC 603e processor, the previous generation of the PowerPC architecture.

The G3/233 signals Apple's continued effort to cut manufacturing costs by simplifying its product lines. (In fact, the G3/233 was originally expected to be priced closer to $2,500.) Like the Power Mac G3 desktop systems, these notebooks will use a simplified, customizable circuit board design for a number of new notebook designs, a technique which streamlines manufacturing.

Apart from a low-cost offering, Apple's new line of PowerBooks will run the gamut from a fully loaded notebook with a 292-MHz PowerPC 750 and 14.1-inch active-matrix display and possibly a DVD-ROM drive at an expected price of around $6,300, as previously reported. Another offering will come with a 250-MHz PowerPC processor and either 12.1-inch or 13.3-inch active-matrix display for around $3,600 and $4,600, respectively, although prices could drop further by the official introduction date.