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IBM spruces up Aptiva line

Big Blue revamps its consumer PCs with superfast 300-MHz Pentium II models and systems with processors from both Cyrix and AMD.

    IBM (IBM) revamped its consumer Aptiva PCs with superfast 300-MHz Pentium II models and systems with processors from both Cyrix and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) as well as consumer-friendly features such as a new mouse design.

    The low-cost Aptiva E Series of computers now range in price from $1,199 to $1,699. Previously, the company was lacking a significant presence at the low end of the PC market.

    The new E Series computers feature either a 166-MHz 6x86 MMX processor, based on a Cyrix design, or a K6 from Advanced Micro Devices running at 200 or 233 MHz. The E Series computers are manufactured in partnership with Acer.

    The lowest-priced E series model, the E14, comes with the 166-MHz 6x86 MMX processor, a 2.1GB hard drive, 16MB of memory, and CD-ROM drive, for $1,199. The E34 with 233-MHz K6 MMX processor, 32MB of memory, a 4.3GB hard drive, and a CD-ROM drive goes for $1,699.

    "Ultimately, what we're seeing here is the continuation of a tier-one vendor trying to expand its market. There are only so many places they can go," says Dean McCarron, an analyst with Mercury Research. "IBM has done pretty well on the high end, and tried before on low end. The partnership with Acer is nothing new, but they clearly sat down and said [to Acer], 'Let's design a system for this market' as opposed to shoehorning one in," McCarron says.

    Traditionally, the low end of the consumer PC market has been populated by purposely crippled, bare-bones models, but new offerings from IBM, Compaq, and Packard Bell-NEC have been fashioned as full-featured systems targeted at the lower end of the market, which is a large segment of the consumer-PC-buying population, McCarron says.

    IBM is also shipping the L Series PCs, which will supplant the existing Aptiva C Series. The L series features the new ScrollPoint Mouse, which has a fingertip control stick similar to the TrackPoint on IBM's ThinkPad notebooks. IBM claims the ScrollPoint makes it easier to move through long documents and surf through Web sites. S Series PCs will also ship with the new mouse.

    IBM is also trying to appeal to a growing interest in digital photography by bundling several programs in what it calls the Photo Director. Software from Adobe, Kodak, and Storm allow for digital image manipulation and storage on Kodak's Picture Network. The Picture Network lets users store up to 100 photos on a remote server, where they can download, email, or create digital picture postcards.

    The L Series PCs start at $1,899 for the L31 with a 233-MHz Pentium processor. The L5H and L61 with 233- and 266-MHz Pentium II processors also feature an AGP-compliant 3D graphics accelerator. AGP enables computers to handle high-end 3D graphics at a relatively low cost by storing information in a system's less-expensive main memory instead of higher-cost video memory. The L61 with 6.4GB hard drive and 24X CD-ROM is priced at $2,499. A model with 300-MHz Pentium II and DVD-ROM is set to ship in October, but no pricing has been announced.

    IBM also updated its S Series line of computers. These models feature the "split system" design. All S Series models feature the 266-MHz Pentium II, a 6.4GB hard disk drive, and a DVD-ROM drive. The systems are priced from $2,999 to $3,299.