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IBM releases sleek NetVista PC line

Big Blue unveils a new line of desktop computers, the NetVista series, it hopes will reinvigorate its slumping consumer PC division.

IBM today unveiled a sleek line of desktop computers it hopes will reinvigorate its slumping PC division.

As previously reported, the NetVista line is aimed at both businesses and consumers. The X40 models are all-in-one machines with built in liquid crystal displays, while the S40 line is a streamlined PC that has no floppy drive and removes older serial and parallel ports in favor of USB connections.

The NetVista X40i, an all-in-one PC with a fancy screen, aimed at consumers and small businesses, is priced at $1,799. That model comes with a 533-MHz Intel Celeron, 64 MB of RAM, a 10.1 GB hard drive, modem and CD-ROM drive. Other models are available with Pentium III processors and more memory. The units can be ordered now, with availability late this month.

Aimed at businesses, the S40 line comes with Windows 2000 and prices ranging from $699 for a 566-MHz Celeron unit to $1,695 for a high-end machine powered by an 866-MHz Pentium III. Orders can be places now for S40 models, but they won't be shipping until next month, IBM said.

Because Windows 98 does not fully support legacy-free PCs, IBM said it will wait for the new Windows ME before introducing the consumer version of the S40.

Both lines add several new features, including an "Access IBM" button that links directly to help features on the computer and can also be set to connect with a company's help desk or other support information. An optional drive bay allows NetVista users to share drives with notebook models from IBM's recently revamped ThinkPad line.

Big Blue said it would support the launch with a $100 million ad campaign, with spots beginning to show up this week in major newspapers, billboards and online.

IBM is looking to reverse a sharp first-quarter decline in PC sales, brought on by its decision late last year to stop selling desktop computers through U.S. retail stores. According to Dataquest, IBM saw its share of the U.S. market during the first quarter fall by nearly half, to 4 percent from 7.9 percent a year earlier, amid a 41.9 percent drop in unit sales.

IBM vice President John Yengo said in an interview last week that the consumer unit is beginning to see some sales momentum.

"Month-to-month shipment reports are up," said Yengo, adding that he expects IBM to gain market share in the coming quarters.

The response to NetVista will be a key, said IDC analyst Roger Kay.

"They've got a lot of eggs in (this) basket," Kay said.

Kay said the products are sleek and have tested well in focus groups. Adding the LCD screen to the NetVista is a hot feature also, he said.

"If they're cheap enough, people will want them," Kay said. "It's the next big thing."