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Emachines unveils holiday lineup

A lump of coal in your stocking, or a new PC? Emachines hopes penny-pinching customers will get in the holiday buying spirit.

Emachines plans to unveil its new PC lineup Monday, with five new low-cost desktops in time for the holiday sales season.

The Irvine, Calif.-based PC maker is looking to grab the attention of penny-pinching customers in what has been a very challenging market. Competitors Hewlett-Packard and Sony have already unveiled holiday PC lineups, complete with lower prices and popular features, such as CD and DVD burners.

Starting prices for Emachines? new PC line will fall even lower than current pricing after rebates. Company executives said these low prices--$399 for a desktop without a monitor, for example--are exactly what consumers are looking for. Yet analysts are unsure whether consumers will buy in and give some life to a lackluster PC market.

"Going into Christmas this year, nobody has any expectations," said Steve Baker, analyst with NPD Techworld. "The best expectations are that (it) will look like last year. The worst case is that (sales) will be significantly lower. The reality is that it's likely to be somewhere in the middle."

Emachines' new lineup ranges in price from a $399 machine to a high-end $999 machine, all priced without monitor. The company plans to still offer rebates to customers when they buy a PC with a monitor.

"We'll do anything we can do to make our products more attractive for our customers," said Gary Elsasser, Emachines' vice president of technology.

The entry-level T1742 PC includes a 1.7GHz Intel Celeron chip, 128MB of memory, a 40GB hard drive and a CD-ROM drive for $399. The next step up is the T1840, with a 1.8GHz Celeron chip, a CD-rewritable drive and a DVD-ROM drive for $499.

By comparison, HP's Presario includes a 1.4GHz Intel Celeron processor, 128MB of memory, a 40GB hard drive and CD-ROM drive. It sells for $399, after a $50 mail-in rebate.

Emachines will use Advanced Micro Devices' processors for its higher-end budget models. The T2085 includes an AMD Athlon 2000+ chip, 256MB of memory, an 80GB hard drive, a CD-RW drive and a DVD drive for $649. The T2200 includes an Athlon 2200+ chip, 512MB of memory, a 100GB hard drive and three IEEE 1394 ports for $749.

HP's Compaq Presario 6320US includes an Athlon XP 2000+, 256MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive and both a CD-RW and a DVD drive for $629.

As previously reported, Emachines? T2000 Special Edition will sell for $999. The PC features a Radeon 9700 graphics board from ATI Technologies, with 128MB of memory and a premium set of speakers geared toward first-time buyers interested in gaming. The T2000 will initially be sold direct to customers, starting in early November.

Let the games begin
Battered by two years of slow sales, manufacturers have started out the competitive holiday season with already low prices. Some have also held funds in reserve to help boost sales with extra rebates and promotions, analysts say.

"I think there's a pot of money, more than maybe three months ago, lined up to support Christmas sales," NPD Techworld?s Baker said.

Last year, PC makers and retailers were pleasantly surprised by stronger than expected sales, especially for high-end PCs. Yet a repeat is not expected. Economic uncertainties have market analysts and industry watchers unsure of how consumers will greet the buying season.

The wild card will be how catchy holiday promotions are, Baker said. "Success is going to be very dependent on prices and promotional activity," he said.

Promotions are sure to abound during the season, said Toni Duboise, desktop analyst at ARS.

"I think (retailers) will get very aggressive with promotions," Duboise said. "You are probably going to see a lot of mail-in rebates and maybe some instant savings."