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HP adds spice to Pavilion desktops

The PC maker is launching five new Pavilion desktops with a new look and a boost in standard features, as well as three new high-performance Media Center desktops.

Hewlett-Packard is putting a new face on its Pavilion desktop PCs for consumers.

The PC giant this week launched five new desktops, priced between $469 and $999, with a new look and a boost in standard features--all in an attempt to appeal to back-to-school shoppers seeking a new machine with an appreciable bang for the buck.

Five Pavilion models, numbered a200n through a250n, will sport the new look that combines a dark blue color with contrasting metallic-blue accents, designed to match HP's printers and Pavilion notebooks. The desktops will be joined by three additional updated HP Media Center desktops, priced between $1,299 and $1,999, though HP has yet to give the Media Center machines a cosmetic makeover.

HP's latest Pavilions offer processors from Advanced Micro Devices and Intel, as well as a minimum configuration of 256MB of RAM and a CD burner. The desktops also come with a suite of software that includes Corel's WordPerfect and InterMute's SpamSubtract antispam software. The desktops will hit store shelves and retail kiosks by the first week of July, HP executives said, and will also be available via the company's site.

HP will offer the Pavilions alongside a fresh line of Compaq Presario desktops, which start at $399 after rebates. HP has aimed the Presario family at customers who desire a more basic PC, while it has tuned its Pavilion lineup to emphasize multimedia tasks such as editing photos and creating videos.

Certain models from the two brands do share some basic features; HP executives have said the company deliberately created the overlap in order to satisfy retailers that want a wider selection of desktops on store shelves.

Of its five new Pavilions, HP's most basic model, the $469 Pavilion a200n, features a 2.4GHz Intel Celeron processor, a 40GB hard drive, 256MB of RAM and a CD burner. The next step up, a $559 Pavilion a210n model, adds a 2.5GHz Celeron processor, an 80GB hard drive and a DVD-ROM drive. Its $679 Pavilion a220n incorporates an AMD Athlon XP 2600+ processor, a 120GB hard drive, 512MB of RAM and the DVD-ROM drive.

HP will offer two models with DVD burners for customers interested in video. The $829 Pavilion a230n features an Athlon XP 2800+, an HP DVD burner and an extra CD-ROM drive. It is otherwise identical to the a220n. The $999 HP Pavilion a250n will come with a 2.66GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor with hyper-threading technology, a 120GB hard drive, 512MB of RAM, a DVD burner and an Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 graphics card.

Although HP enjoys the top spot in retail sales in the United States, it still must watch its competitors. HP's Compaq Presario line and some of its less expensive Pavilion desktops take on companies such as low-price PC seller eMachines. On the other end, Pavilion models with DVD burners as well as several new Media Center PCs will help HP compete with a Sony's latest Vaio desktop PCs. Earlier this month, Sony launched a number of new Vaio desktops, including the $899 PCV-RS310 equipped with a DVD burner.

Meanwhile, HP's beefed-up Media Center desktops will make use of Intel Pentium 4 hyper-threading chips, along with better-performing hard drives, faster DVD burners and Nvidia GeForce FX graphics boards.

The Media Center models will hit stores by the middle of July, HP executives said. All Media Center PCs are based on Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition software. The Windows XP variant offers a number of special features, including a user interface with a remote control that can be used to play audio, launch video files or record TV programs. Media Center PCs are typically fitted with top-of-the-line components and sell for a premium over regular desktops, though HP has brought down its entry-level Media Center PC price.

The new HP Media Center m260n, its most basic Media Center model, includes a 2.6GHz Pentium 4 with hyper-threading, a 120GB hard drive, 512MB of RAM, a DVD burner, an additional CD-ROM drive and an Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 graphics card. It will sell for $1,299.

A midrange m270n model, priced at $1,599, will add a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 with hyper-threading and a higher-performing 160GB hard drive that spins at 7,200 revolutions per minute. It also sports an extra DVD-ROM drive to complement its DVD burner and a GeForce FX 5200 graphics card with its own 128MB of built-in memory.

The m280n model, at $1,999, adds a 3GHz Pentium 4 with hyper-threading, a 200GB/7,200rpm hard drive, a GeForce FX 5600 graphics card, a SoundBlaster Audigy sound card and a wireless keyboard and mouse.

HP plans to make its new Media Center models available via its configure-to-order program for the first time in July. The move was designed to address the needs of customers who want to create their own Media Center machine.

HP will make the Media Center machines available first via its retail kiosks. The kiosks, located in stores, will let shoppers order a custom version of a Media Center PC, with more memory or a different processor, for example. Customers will also be able to configure a less expensive Media Center than can be found on store shelves. Configure-to-order Media Center machines will start at $999 through the program, HP executives said.

HP will also offer buyers the ability to configure Media Centers PCs via its site, starting in the middle of July.