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Dell steps onto printer stage

The PC maker is taking on Hewlett-Packard and others with a quartet of inkjet and laser devices, which it will begin shipping in April.

Dell Computer is making its first foray into the printer business with four of its own models for consumers and businesses.

The Round Rock, Texas, PC manufacturer will start taking orders for its new printers on Tuesday. It is touting aggressive prices as well as free shipping for printer accessories and recycling for customers' old printers.

As previously reported, the first models to come out of the company's new printing and imaging business will comprise a color inkjet and a monochrome laser printer for homes and small businesses, and two monochrome laser printers for businesses.

The inkjet, which can print, scan, fax and copy documents, will sell for $139, while the monochrome laser printer for small businesses will be priced at $289. The other two printers will start at $499. The company said it will start shipping by April 8.

Sources indicated in February that Dell would launch three printers, but the company added networking capability to create a fourth model.

The printers represent Dell's latest advance in a strategy aimed at boosting revenue and diversifying its product line. Dell has already launched a new PDA (personal digital assistant), a line of digital projectors and a family of network gear. Meanwhile, it is evaluating new product lines, such as digital cameras, company executives said.

Supplies for the printers will not be available at retail stores. Instead, customers will have to purchase them online or via telephone. Dell said it will not charge shipping fees.

Dell's black-and-white ink cartridges will start at $29.95, and color cartridges will cost $34.95. Toner will start at $74.95 for a 3,000-page, single-use cartridge. Customers who buy multiple ink or toner cartridges will receive discounts.

While Dell is targeting some of the hottest areas of the printer market, such as all-in-ones, its overall strategy is fairly conservative, analysts say.

"It's a good move for Dell not to charge for shipping," said Steve Baker, analyst with NPD Techwold. "Dell's pricing is aggressive, but if you look at any of the products?-the ink or the printers?-the pricing is not disruptive. That means it won't shake the market up."

Dell already sells a large number of printers with its PCs, so it's guaranteed some sales; the measure of success will be if it can sell its printers apart its PCs, Baker said.

Convenience counts
Aside from price, the bulk of Dell's printer sales pitch rests on convenience. Dell designed its printers to notify people ahead of time when they need to get more ink.

Dell printers will include a gauge that monitors how much ink or toner is present. When an ink or toner cartridge's reserves fall to 25 percent or lower, the gauge flashes a warning notice that allows the user to click through to Dell's Web site to order a new cartridge.

While Dell does not charge for shipping, it will charge $3.95 to ship supplies overnight, said Tim Peters, vice president and general manager of Dell's Imaging and Printing business. It will take next-day orders until midnight Eastern Time.

"We're taking out the inconvenience of the customer having to...get in the car" to get more ink, Peters said.

Hewlett-Packard, Dell's biggest rival in PCs and now printers, sees things differently. HP argues that it offers greater convenience than Dell because it sells supplies online--via its Web site--as well as in brick-and-mortar stores. HP ink cartridges start at around $20, and toner starts at about $65.

HP also argues that it has put more research and development into its printers. The company recently refreshed its entire printer product line to the tune of $1.2 billion.

Indeed, the lion's share of Dell's printer technology comes from Lexmark. The companies signed a manufacturing partnership last year.

Printer rivalries
Dell's new printers will compete with a broad range of models from rival HP and other manufacturers, such as Epson and Brother.

Dell's Personal All-in-One Printer A940 prints up to 17 black-and-white pages per minute and 12 color pages per minute when printing at resolutions of up to 4,800 by 1,200 dots per inch. The A940 takes on HP's lower-priced, all-in-one PSC 1210, introduced earlier this month. It sells for $150.

But Dell will increase the stakes with a $30 mail-in rebate on the A940 through the middle of April, reducing its price to $109. Dell may also bundle its printers with its PCs in special offers.

Dell's $289 Personal Laser Printer P1500 will turn out as many as 19 pages per minute. HP's entry-level laser device, the LaserJet 1000, starts at $249 and prints 15 pages per minute.

The business-oriented Dell Workgroup Laser Printer S2500 and S2500n models deliver up to 22 pages per minute. The S2500, which can be attached to a network, sells for $499, while the S2500n costs $839. HP's similar networked LaserJet printer starts at around $899.

Peters said Dell will follow up its first four printers with several additional models in the future.