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Mac, clone prices falling

Just because the Macintosh clone is a vanishing breed doesn't mean Mac users won't continue to see inexpensive systems, especially this holiday season.

Just because the Macintosh clone computer is a vanishing breed doesn't mean Mac users won't continue to see inexpensive systems.

Umax today announced a $500 rebate on its high-end clones, and other Mac clone systems are being discounted too as resellers enter the heart of the holiday-selling season.

With the rebate, Umax's S900/200, a 200-MHz PowerPC 604e system that's normally targeted at the high-end of the market, is available for under $2,000. The Umax model also ships with more features, such as better video and more high-speed "cache" memory, than comparably priced Power Mac 8600 systems from Apple.

The S900/200 incorporates a 2.1GB hard disk drive, a CD-ROM drive, and the ability to add a second processor.

There was some concern that price competition would taper off in the wake of announcements from Motorola (MOT) and Power Computing stating that they will shut down their Macintosh clone businesses. Both companies decided to exit the market for Mac clones this September, after Apple decided that they were taking away too many sales of Mac systems.

In the short term, however, pricing has become more competitive than ever as companies clear out the inventory of remaining systems. Apple hasn't stood still, either. The company is offering price cuts and rebates on a number of systems (See related story). Perhaps more important, the Cupertino, California, company has aggressively priced new Power Mac G3 systems with the speedy PowerPC 750 processor as low as $2,000.

"Apple has done a better job of addressing the price issue. Prices in the Apple Store are decent. There is also an interesting little battle with some resellers undercutting Apple's prices," noted Devin Comisky, an analyst with D.H. Brown.

Comisky was referring to some recent changes in Apple's marketing campaign that have made it possible for some resellers to advertise lower prices than Apple would care to see. For instance, ClubMac is offering a Power Mac 7300/180 with 180-MHz PowerPC 604e for $1,799, when most other resellers are advertising a price of $1,999.

Consumers in the market for a home or small office system will be able to get some good deals on systems this season, too, as there are a number of sub-$1,000 systems with 200- and even 240-MHz PowerPC 603e processors available. The 603e is the PowerPC processor generally targeted for use in consumer-oriented systems.

MacMall, for example, is now offering a Motorola Starmax 3000/200 model with 200-MHz PowerPC 603e processor for $849 and a 240-MHz system for $949.

"We're starting to run out of availability on Motorola and Power Computing systems. There has been more demand for Motorola units," said Dan DeVries, executive vice president of marketing for Creative Computers (MALL). Creative Computers, which sells equipment through its MacMall catalog and Web site, is one of the largest Mac resellers.

"I wish we could get more of them, but the supply of those is ready to dry up. Then it will be essentially Apple and, to a lesser extent, Umax," DeVries observed. As for Apple systems, MacMall is advertising Apple's official prices, but is offering customers a preset "instant rebate" to remain competitive with resellers such as Club Mac.

The end result is that catalog and retail outlets selling Motorola and Power Computing products are likely to enjoy strong sales through the end of the year as people stock up on new Mac clones.