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Dell's new PC to appeal to gamers

The Dimension XPS sports Intel's latest 3GHz processor, the 875P chipset and a number of extras not ordinarily found on a Dell machine.

Dell Computer will unveil a new PC geared toward gamers on Monday in an effort to scope out the relatively small, but often lucrative, enthusiast market.

The Dimension XPS sports Intel's latest 3GHz processor and the new 875P chipset. The 875P, formerly known as Canterwood, features an 800MHz bus for connecting the processor to memory--faster than the 533MHz or 400MHz bus found on other Pentium 4 PCs. The chipset also comes with Serial ATA, a fast link between the hard drive and the processor that speeds up data flow.

So far, most competitors are using the new processor and chipset only in corporate workstations.

The XPS will tout a number of extras not ordinarily found on a Dell machine. It will come standard with two 1394 ports, the sort of thing more commonly seen on PCs from consumer-centric companies like Apple Computer and Sony. In the past, 1394 ports could be added as an option only on Dell computers. The chassis of the desktop also will come in Venice blue "with midnight gray and brushed silver accents," according to Dell. Most Dell PCs are dark gray.

High performance and an unconventional chassis are two of the signature hallmarks of PCs in the gaming enthusiast market. Small companies such as Alienware and retailers such as Best Buy have seen sales grow with their house brands by specializing in PCs with the newest technology, latest peripherals and distinctive looks.

The market is small--specialty manufacturers probably sell only 100,000 PCs in total annually, said Roger Kay, an analyst at IDC. But the profit margins and average selling prices of PCs can be fairly high, he added. A number of trends are emerging in this market as well.

The line between the multinational manufacturers and specialists has begun to blur a bit, with mainstream manufacturers increasingly emphasizing aesthetics and specialty manufacturers making wider distribution and retailing deals to reach a broader audience.

Still, it's not an easy market to crack. "Most major manufacturers have left them alone because the customer base is kind of finicky," Kay said.

Dell is not just targeting hard-core gamers, but instead is seeking to attract regular consumers as well. The desire to seek broader appeal in part can be seen in the chassis colors. Alienware's PCs come in colors like Martian Red and Cyborg Green. Dell's color is named after a place that Mom might want to go on vacation.

Dell's history in developing PCs that appeal to consumers on aesthetics to date hasn't been superlative. The company's first foray into stylish PCs, the WebPC, ended six months after it began. Nonetheless, the company has said it has seen success with the colored chassis in notebooks.

The Dimension XPS has three bays for optical drives, eight USB 2.0 ports, a choice of game controllers, a 128MB Radeon 9800 or 9800 Pro graphics card and up to 200GB of hard drive space. Prices start at $2,199.