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Sony powers up new laptops, PCs

The company announces a range of new machines, all built to help sell more Sony digital cameras, camcorders and music products.

Sony Electronics kicked off the millennium by announcing a range of new notebooks, all-in-one LCD computers and multimedia desktop systems, all built to help sell more Sony digital cameras, camcorders and music products.

The new computers are positioned as multimedia powerhouses, not just because digital imaging is a hot consumer application, but also because Sony's strategy in its consumer PC business has been to design computers explicitly for use with its high-profit consumer electronics products, such as the Sony Mavica camera.

The strategy is similar to what many PC companies are sticking to these days, as component and system prices drop so low that it's difficult to differentiate computers by hardware specifications or software bundles. In contrast to other PC makers, however, Sony is ideally suited to this strategy, the electronics giant has argued, because its core strengths are in traditional audio video products, not computers.

Although this plan has yet to boost Sony into the upper echelon of PC sellers, Sony's know-how in product design and consumer marketing has saved the company's computer business from embarrassment. After a year or two of lackluster sales, Sony PCs--especially notebooks--are selling in respectable numbers and garnering industry attention for the first time.

Sony today announced three new full-sized desktop computers, two new notebooks and one slim desktop with integrated flat-panel display. Some of the new systems support Sony's Memory Stick technology, a portable memory device that can transfer music or video files from cameras and players directly to the PC.

"More and more consumers are demanding a PC with digital video editing capabilities that enable them to easily create and edit home movies," said Rich Black, senior marketing manager of desktop PCs, in a statement today. "Our research clearly confirms that consumers want more than standard business capabilities from their PCs; they want applications that enhance and even highlight the way they live, work and play--one that even entertains."

The new Vaio desktop computers, dubbed Digital Studios, are priced from $1,499 to $2,599. Optimized to download video clips straight from digital camcorders or cameras, or music files straight from Sony's upcoming Music Clip MP3 music player, the computers are outfitted with a variety of connection technologies to ease the transfer of sometimes unwieldy multimedia files, including USB ports and Sony's iLink digital interface.

The new Vaios run on Pentium III processors at speeds up to 750 MHz and offer up to 40GB hard drives.

The additions to its line of Vaio notebooks continue the company's approach to portables: slick designs and beefy hardware under the curvaceous shell. In this case, the company's new Vaio notebooks feature up to 256MB of memory, DVD-ROM drives, mobile Pentium III processors and 14.1 inch displays. The high-end systems don't come cheap, however: The new Vaios start at $2,399.

The new "Slimtop" Vaio, featuring a 15-inch LCD display and built-in Memory Stick slot, is similar in design to all-in-one PCs released this year from NEC and Gateway. The Slimtop PC runs on a 600-MHz Pentium III, includes a 17GB hard drive, 128MB of memory and a DVD-ROM drive for $2,699.

The new computers will be available starting this month for some, February for others.