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Packard Bell pitching $499 desktops

In an effort to regain its footing, struggling Packard Bell NEC will make a strong pitch to its historical strength, the low end.

Packard Bell NEC will today introduce consumer desktops starting at $499, Cyrix- and Intel-based systems intended for the company's low-cost target market.

In an effort to regain its footing, struggling Packard Bell NEC will make a strong pitch to its historical strength. While the company will unveil several models for under $1,100, it is unlikely to dip much below $500 or range too far above $1,500, according to company executives.

Recent research indicates that the company continues to do well in the sub-$1,000 retail market.

In October and November of last year, Packard Bell topped all PC makers in the sub-$1,000 retail desktop market, before slipping behind Compaq to the No. 2 position in December, according to market research firm ZD Market Intelligence. Compaq accounted for 24.3 percent of all sales last month, compared to Packard-Bell's 24.2 percent, according to Market Intelligence's Matt Sargent.

Part of Packard Bell's success in the sub-$1,000 sector owes to the fact that, until recently, it was one of the only players competing at the lowest of the low end. But recently eMachines' $399 and $499 systems have stolen some of Packard Bell's market share, Sargent said.

Packard Bell's new $499 system features a 300-MHZ Cyrix processor and is priced at $599 before rebate. The company will probably not dip any lower in the future, said Jack Yovanovich, director of consumer product marketing.

"You can do a lower-priced configuration, but I don't think people are going to be as happy with it," he said, noting that the $499 Packard Bell Multimedia 880 offers a more robust configuration than previous systems at that price point. "If you go any lower than [$499] you sacrifice the user experience."

At the top of the line, Packard Bell will introduce the $1,099 Platinum 8300 with Intel's new 400-MHz Celeron processor, 96MB of memory, and a 10.2GB hard drive. This system represents the ceiling for the Packard Bell brand, according to Yovanovich.

"We ended up No. 1 in the sub-$1,000 market in the fourth quarter, and we're really focusing on the Packard Bell product line in that space. Above that, we're targeting the NEC Ready line," he said, adding that even the NEC Ready line will not be priced above $1,499.

"There really doesn't seem to be much interest in the retail community," in prices above that point, he said.

Filling out the new product lines, the company introduced the Packard Bell Multimedia 910 with 333-MHz Cyrix processor, 64MB of memory, and 6.4GB hard drive for $749. The Packard Bell Platinum 7800 incorporates a 366-MHz Celeron for $899.