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Dell hopes new gear speaks volumes

The company expands its new line of switches that help computers talk to each other. Will the push help attract smaller businesses into its fold?

Dell Computer on Wednesday expanded its new line of switches that help computers talk to each other, part of a push to attract small businesses.

The newly announced switches cost $299 and $499 and are meant for companies that have computer networks used by up to 1,000 different people, according to Kim Crawford, vice president for Dell's networking group.

In September, Dell squared off with the likes of 3Com and other networking players with the release of four low-end networking devices that connect PCs and servers together in small and midsized businesses. It added two more switches to that line on Wednesday.

The PC maker wants to break into the network-equipment market, a $5 billion-a-year industry that includes entrenched networking players such as 3Com and Nortel Networks spinoff Netgear, as well as Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Linksys and D-Link. Dell is also battling Cisco Systems, although the networking giant focuses mostly on higher-end equipment.

Dell's goal is to persuade its small and midsized business customers that buy PCs to also purchase low-end "switches," devices that allow office PCs and servers to connect and swap data. Currently, about 25 percent of its customers do, Crawford said Wednesday.

Analysts say Dell has a good shot at succeeding in the market because its new family of products is priced much lower than its competition's. Gartner analysts, for example, have predicted that Dell will capture as much as 10 percent of the low-end switch market by 2002.

Dell's switches can support between eight and 24 connections as well as Ethernet-based connections that run at 10 megabits, 100 megabits or 1 gigabit per second.