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Dell offers Media Center on the cheap

PC maker promotion lets customers upgrade from Windows XP Home to Windows XP Media Center Edition for half the price.

Dell customers can upgrade from Microsoft Windows XP to the Media Center operating system for half the price as part of a promotion running from now until Nov. 22.

The Round Rock, Texas, PC maker will offer customers the Media Center upgrade for $19 when they purchase all but one of the company's Dimension desktop models.

Dell says it hopes the offer will get more customers thinking about using PCs to access multimedia files. Media Center's main feature is a special graphical interface designed to allow users to access and view photos, videos and other multimedia files more easily than on a standard Windows XP PCs. Media Center PCs can also operate via a remote control and--with a TV tuner card installed--can show and record television programs. Dell packages a tuner and a remote together for $110.

Dell's lowest-price Media Center-capable desktop, the Dimension 3000, cannot be ordered with a TV tuner. Dell offers a remote control for the Dimension 3000 for $29.

"Our objective is to raise consumers' awareness (of Media Center) and get them excited about the fact that it's far more affordable than they might have thought," said Tom Vogl, director of marketing for Dell's U.S. Consumer business. "A year ago, they were hard-pressed to find a Media Center (desktop) for $1,000 and now we're offering them for just over $500."

A Dimension 3000 desktop can be purchased for as little as $518, thanks to the $19 upgrade and an additional discount that's now available, a Dell spokesman said. For that price the machine comes with a 2.8GHz Intel Pentium 4, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a CD burner and a DVD-ROM, along with a 17-inch CRT monitor for $518.

Although the $19 offer will end on Monday, Dell will work to maintain relatively low prices on Media Center upgrades, using a variety of approaches, Vogl said. He declined to elaborate.

The offer also underscores Dell's extensive efforts to woo holiday buyers. The PC maker--which last week began offering price discounts on desktop and notebooks for consumers--put its promotional machine into overdrive this week, getting a jump on the holiday shopping season, which officially kicks off on Friday, Nov 26.

This week Dell announced a sweepstakes that will give away six Cadillac Escalade SUVs filled with a number of Dell PCs and electronics products, to customers in the United States over the next six weeks. Customers can register to enter on Dell's Web site. Those who purchase products from departments such as Dell Home and Home Office will automatically be entered.

The price discounts introduced last week reduce the prices of Dell Dimension desktops and Inspiron notebooks by between 10 percent and 25 percent. The discounts cut the price of Dell's least-expensive Dimension 2400 desktop to just more than $300, without a monitor, and its Inspiron 1000 notebook to just less than $600. Dell doesn't offer the Dimension 2400 with a Media Center upgrade, however.

Dell frequently rotates special offers, usually including one or more price discounts, mail-in rebates, free component upgrades and free shipping offers. Thus, it may not offer the PC price discounts for the entire holiday season. However, the company will continue to offer a string of specials throughout the holidays, a spokesman said.

Still, Dell isn't the only PC maker offering Media Center PCs at relatively low prices. Gateway on Thursday unveiled the Gateway 3250X, a Media Center desktop it will sell direct to customers for a starting price of $799.

Media Center desktops from Hewlett-Packard start at $949, after rebates, according to the company's HPShopping.com Web site.