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Bargain notebooks set to roll out

Consumers will start to get more bang for the notebook buck with a raft of bargain-priced notebooks from Compaq and Toshiba.

Consumers and small businesses will start to get more bang for the notebook buck starting next week with a new raft of bargain-priced Pentium II and Pentium MMX notebooks from Compaq Computer, Toshiba, and Acer.

The wave of cheaper systems fulfills predictions made two months ago that Pentium II-based notebooks would proliferate under the $3,000 price bar. Improved chip manufacturing, lower component prices, and increased competition among vendors in a crowded market are cited as the main reasons for the trend. (See related story)

"[Computer vendors] said that Pentium II was going under $3,000 and that's exactly where they are headed," said Mike McGuire, notebook analyst at Dataquest. "There is [also] a lot of inventory in the channel."

Compaq will release five new notebooks in its Presario line next week, according to sources. The units range from a $1,599 Presario 1230 containing a 233-MHz MediaGX processor from Cyrix to the Presario 1655 containing an Intel Pentium II running at 266 MHz and a 13.3-inch screen. This high-end model will start at close to $2,999 but likely go down as price pressures increase, said Josh Council, notebook analyst for ARS.

Other models will include 233-MHz K6 processors from Advanced Micro Devices and sell for between $2,199 to $2,499.

For its part, Toshiba will roll out next week the Satellite 335 and 330 series notebooks. The systems will come with a 266-MHz Pentium MMX processor, 12.1-inch display, and a 4.1GB hard disk drive for a starting price of $2,199. A model with an active-matrix display is offered for $2,499.

Acer, meanwhile, has taken the wraps off of the Extensa 700 line, its first Pentium II notebooks. The Extensa 710DX comes with a 233-MHz Pentium II, a 2.1GB hard drive, and a 12.1-inch screen for $1,999, according to Acer.

The price-performance ratio on notebooks will match this year?s desktop, according to Acer. "What you saw in the desktop area last year you will see in notebooks," said Arif Maskatia, vice president of advanced technology group at Acer. Although the prices are aggressive, Acer will have to fight for shelf space at retail, said ARS's Council. "As of right now, they have no shelf space."

Meanwhile, Packard Bell NEC will cut prices on its 233-MHz MMX and 266-MHz Versa notebooks for corporate users. The Versa machines, which all come with 13.1-inch active-matrix screens, will range in price from $2,699 to $3,299.

Gateway doesn't have new models to offer, but is cutting prices by $100 on notebooks in the Solo 5100 series. The notebooks, which come with either a 233- or 266-MHz Pentium II processor and 14.1-inch display, will be priced from $2,799 to $3,599 after the reduction. It is the third price cut on the Solo line since its introduction in April.