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Via powers $199 Wal-Mart PC

The Taiwan chipmaker helps drop the PC price bar a little lower, announcing that it will supply the processors for a new line of Wal-Mart PCs that start at $199.

Taiwan chipmaker Via helped drop the PC price bar a little lower Friday, announcing that it will supply the processors for a new line of Wal-Mart PCs that start at $199.

Wal-Mart early this year began offering low-priced PCs assembled by Microtel Computer Systems through its e-commerce site. The cheapest previous offering was a $299 model outfitted with an 850MHz Duron processor from Advanced Micro Devices and with Lindows, a version of the Linux operating system intended to be compatible with some Windows applications. A Microtel PC with a 900MHz Duron but no operating system also sells for $299.

The new $199 PC, available now at Wal-Mart's shopping site, will use Lindows and an 800MHz version of Via's C3 processor. It does not come with a monitor.

The 800MHz C3 will also show up in other Microtel models sold by Wal-Mart, including models running Microsoft's Windows XP operating system, priced at $299.84, or $399.72 with a 15-inch monitor. The C3 models will also use Via's Apollo PLE133, which includes an integrated graphics processor.

The Wal-Mart deal is one of the biggest North American customer wins for Via's microprocessor business. The company is mainly known for chipsets, PC components that link the processor with other system components, such as memory.

Via got into the microprocessor market in 1999 when it acquired the microprocessor divisions of National Semiconductor and IDT named, respectively, Cyrix and Centaur. The first chips came out in 2000.

The company specializes in cut-rate processors that largely get sold in developing nations. In China, for instance, many manufacturers bundle Via's chips with computers running Microsoft's ancient DOS operating system.