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New IBM PCs aim high and low

With Cobra, IBM renews its attempt to capture the luxury class of computer buyers, as well as the more cost-conscious with a new K6-2 Aptiva.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read
IBM will refresh its Aptiva consumer computer line this Thursday with the release of Cobra, a high-end Pentium II Aptiva system for users with an itch for performance and style, as well as a more cost-conscious computer built around the upcoming 350-MHz K6-2 processor from Advanced Micro Devices.

Cobra will represent IBM's renewed attempt to capture the fancy of the "Lexus" class of luxury computer buyers. In 1997, IBM released a series of black, high-performance consumer computers, code-named "Stealth," with a strong emphasis on industrial design. Unfortunately, 1997 was the year consumers decided to go cheap with sub-$1,000 PCs. IBM lost market share, a slide which it began to reverse this year by emphasizing inexpensive computers housed in a standard beige case.

Like Stealth, Cobra will come with a black case but avoid some of the other pitfalls of the earlier product line. Rather than emphasize its design, IBM will play up the Cobra's technological features. At $2,399, the Cobra will come with a Pentium II 450-MHz processor, 128MB of memory, and a 16.8GB hard drive, which is the largest hard drive on desktops today, said sources.

For about $1,000 more, consumers can get a 15-inch IBM flat panel LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor.

IBM will also initially only release one Cobra model, said sources close to the company.

For mainstream consumers, IBM will also come out with a new Aptiva computer incorporating the 350-MHz K6-2 from AMD, due the same day. The new chip will use a 100-MHz "system bus"--which boosts performance--and come with AMD's 3DNow technology, which acclerates 3D graphics performance on some systems.

AMD has made significant market share gains in the retail computing market this year against rivals Intel and Cyrix. Although chip dealers and retailers have reported sporadic shortages of K6 and K6-2 processors this year, chip supply, a problem for AMD last year, has improved.

Prices, meanwhile, have remained below Intel's for comparable processor speeds. Along with IBM, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard have incorporated AMD chips for their consumer lines.

Systems based around the 350-MHz chip are expected to sell for around $1,200, according to retail sources. Other vendors are also expected to announce products, or at least support, for the 350-MHz K6-2.

(Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)