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Summer means back-to-school desktops from HP

The computer giant serves up seven new PC lines, moving newer technologies into lower-price models.

Though summer has barely started, Hewlett-Packard is already thinking about getting back to school.

The computer giant released seven new desktop PC lines this week, including five new HP Pavilion 600 series lines, aimed at back-to-school buyers, and two Compaq Presario lines offering Intel's latest chips.

HP usually updates the features contained in its desktops at least three times a year. Although prices don't always change much, the company typically adds faster processors and larger hard drives over time, while also moving newer technologies into lower-price models. DVD burners, for one, have dropped enough in price so that HP can now include one in its Pavilion a620n desktop, which sells for $699 at retail, after rebates. The PC maker is also including 9-in-1 memory card readers in all of its retail Pavilion desktops.

HP's latest Pavilion 600 series PCs, officially unveiled Tuesday, can be purchased either direct from the company or at retail stores. Direct-sales Pavilion 600 models such as the AMD Athlon processor a610e series and the Intel Celeron a600y series each start at $349 after rebates, while retail store models such as the Pavilion a600n come with extras such as more memory and the 9-in-1 card reader and start at $529 after rebates, an HP representative said.

The Pavilion a600n's price comes to $529 after a $50 rebate. It includes an Athlon XP 2800+ processor, 512MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, a CD burner, a DVD-ROM drive and a 9-in-1 memory card reader, the representative said.

Meanwhile, the Pavilion a620n, also available at retail, will offer the DVD burner, a DVD+RW format drive, along with a an Athlon XP 3200+ processor, 512MB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive and a CD-ROM drive for $699 after a $50 rebate.

HP sees the $699 price point as a retail "sweet spot," where it can ring up a large number of sales.

"It's the combination of the price and the functionality," said Giovanni Sena, product marketing manager for Pavilion and Media Center at HP. "DVD is what's driving it--what's making the price point compelling."

HP is also offering several other Pavilion models, including the a610y, a650y and a650e, direct to consumers. The a610y and a650y offer successively faster Intel Pentium 4 processors for after-rebate prices starting at $358 and $619, respectively, while the a650e comes with AMD Athlon 64 processors for prices starting at $609 post-rebate.

Aside from beefing up the Pavilion's hardware, HP also added new security software by including Intermute's Protection Suite, which features applications designed to prevent spam, pop-up ads and spyware.

On the Presario side, HP's two newest Compaq Presario lines offer lower prices and higher-end features, respectively.

HP's Presario SR1000 series includes models that start at $429 after rebates when sold at retail and at $319 after rebates when sold direct to customers.

Meanwhile, the new Presario SA4000 series will offer an option for HP's Personal Media Drive, along with the latest processors from Advanced Micro Devices and Intel.

HP's Personal Media Drive incorporates a 160GB hard drive into a special module that plugs into an HP Media Center M1000 desktop or one of the SA4000 series desktops. It can be used for backing up or sharing files in the HP desktops but can still connect to other PCs using a universal serial bus port.

Compaq Presario SA4000T models, which will offer Intel Pentium 4 500-series processors, will start at $950 after rebates, while Presario SA4000Z models will include AMD Athlon 64 processors for prices starting at $820 after rebates. The two machines come out later this month.

HP continues to use its dual-brand strategy for consumer PCs. The company positions its HP Pavilion models as premium, multimedia-oriented desktops by including extras such as its HP Photosmart Plus photo editing and archiving software.

HP positions Compaq Presario-branded desktops as home or small-business productivity tools and typically sells them for somewhat less. Some Pavilion and Presario models still overlap on price and features, however, an intentional move on the company's part.