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Notebook flirts with $699 price tag

WinBook will attempt to turn consumer heads next week when it releases a laptop priced at $799--before a $100 rebate--that includes a 2GHz Intel Celeron chip and a 14.1-inch display.

Notebook maker WinBook will attempt to turn consumer heads next week when it releases a laptop priced at $799 before a $100 rebate.

The WinBook J4 730 incorporates a 2GHz Intel Celeron chip, a 14.1-inch display, 256MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive and a DVD-ROM drive.

With the release of the new machine for the retail market, WinBook will attempt to ride the wave of falling notebook prices that is luring buyers away from desktop PCs or is convincing them to pick up a laptop as a second PC. Notebook prices at retail, which still average about $1,300, according to NPD Techworld, have been falling steadily, as component prices have come down and competition has increased.

Although they still don't account for nearly as many units as desktops, notebook unit sales at retail have continued to post solid growth on a monthly basis, despite the economic downturn. This makes the category an important one for manufacturers and has helped to drive down prices on many models well below $1,000.

Meanwhile, the days are over when a $1,000 price tag meant cheap. At one time, notebooks that sold for $1,000 or less used lowly components like 12-inch screens. But many manufacturers are now fitting their $1,000 machines with 15-inch screens and CD burners. With rebates, the notebooks often dip well below the $1,000 mark.

Hilliard, Ohio-based WinBook is combining somewhat less-expensive components, including a smaller 14.1-inch screen and a DVD-ROM drive, to reach to the lower price.

Following a $100 rebate from Micro Electronics, which is WinBook's parent company and runs the Micro Center retail chain, the new machine will cost $699. WinBook will also sell the machine directly to customers via its Web site.

For customers looking for a larger screen or a CD burner, WinBook will offer a version of the machine with a 15-inch screen, a CD burner/DVD-ROM combination drive and a 30GB hard drive for $899, before rebates.

While it touts the new J4 730 as its lowest-priced model ever, WinBook will still find plenty of competition.

A number of notebooks from Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba are selling for less than $1,000 at retail. The machines often dip well below that mark as retailers pile on rebates.

Toshiba's latest Satellite notebook, the A15-S127, offers a 2GHz Celeron processor, a 15-inch screen, a CD burner/DVD-ROM combination drive, 256MB of RAM and a 30GB hard drive for $1,049 at retail, before rebates.

Direct seller Dell Computer, meanwhile, offers its Inspiron 1100, starting at $899 before shipping costs.

Best Buy is also selling its house-brand VPR Matrix notebook, which sports a 1.7GHz Intel Pentium 4-M, a 14-inch screen and a CD burner for $899 via its Web site. The company had stopped selling the machine for a while, prompting rumors of its demise. But Best Buy representatives said the retailer will continue to offer both notebook and desktop versions of its VPR Matrix.