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Seattle company offers $299 PC

Microworkz lowers the PC price bar with a box that sells for only $299.

A small, Seattle-based company lowered the PC price bar with a box that sells for only $299.

Microworkz, a relatively unknown direct seller of PCs, said in April it will begin offering an ultra-low-cost system that comes bundled with a year's Internet access. The company doesn't expect the system to be profitable, but will instead depend on subsidies to sustain its business.

"The goal is not to make money on the $299 PC," according to president Rick Latman. "This is an outreach product."

Chipmaker National Semiconductor's Cyrix arm is a strategic partner, Latman said. Founded in 1991, Microworkz began as an independent custom software vendor but has been selling PCs directly since February of last year.

Emachines, another company that was unknown only six months ago, made a splash when it announced a $399 PC in September of last year. Both, another start-up, and Packard Bell NEC have also been pushing sub-$600 PCs.

Microworkz' Webzter line of PCs is the "flagship product...which aims to bring PCs and the Internet to the 55 percent of U.S. households which are still without computers," according to a company statement that echoes what Emachines and others have been saying for some time. The systems come with Net access provided by ISP Earthlink.

The $299 Webzter Jr. has a Cyrix 300-MHz MII processor, 32MB of memory, a 3.2GB hard drive, a 56-kbps modem, Windows 98, and Corel WordPerfect Suite 8, in addition to online connectivity.

Microworkz also announced two other products--a $499 Webzter and the $699 Webzter Sr. At $499, the WEBzter includes a faster Cyrix 366-MHz MII chip and a larger 4.3GB hard drive. It also adds more graphics memory--8MB based on AGP technology--and a CD-ROM drive.

The Webzter Sr., at $699, boosts the processor speed to 400 MHz with an Advanced Micro Devices K6-2 chip. The hard drive capacity is 6.4GB and the memory is upped to 64MB.

WEBzter PCs will all be assembled in the United States at Microworkz manufacturing facilities in the Seattle area, the company said. The company can make 200,000 computers per month and it goes into "pre-production" later this month and full production in mid-April 1999.

The company currently has 45 employees and will be adding another 36, Latman said.

The new computers will be demonstrated at Spring Comdex in Chicago.