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Ohio PC maker offers $399 PC

Micro Center may be hoping that 1998 will be the year of the sub-$500 system, offering a 233-MHz system with a modem but no monitor.

Ohio-based Micro Center may be hoping that 1998 will be the year of the sub-$500 PC.

For $399, the company is offering the PowerSpec 2021 PC with a 233-MHz MediaGX processor from Cyrix, 2.1GB hard disk drive, 32MB of memory, a CD-ROM drive, and a modem. Microcenter is both a PC vendor, supplying the WinBook line of notebooks, and a major computer retailer, running 12 large PC retail stores throughout the United States, in addition to its catalog sales operations.

Micro Center's PowerSpec 2021 is not on the cutting edge of chip technology, but instead aims at the growing number of users who have opted to buy low-cost PCs because few typical software titles actually use the power and memory of top-class systems. Overall, sub-$1,000 PCs now constitute nearly half of the entire retail market sales, according to industry analysts.

Micro Center isn't going to be alone at the low end, to be sure. A company called eMachines, a start-up backed by South Korean PC giant Trigem and display maker Korean Data Systems, says it has signed up two U.S.-based retailers to sell its sub-$500 PCs.

"We will see some competition from it, but we sell other manufacturers like Hewlett-Packard and Compaq, so realistically, eMachines could be another offering from us," said Jerrod Alatalo, a marketing manager for Micro Center.

Micro Center is also offering a $599 PowerSpec 4320 system with a 266-MHz Intel Celeron processor, 3.2GB hard disk drive, and 32MB of memory.

The 2021 is currently available. A system with USB ports will be available later this month.