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PC makers ready new Celeron lines

On Monday, PC makers are expected to announce their new Celeron systems and new machines based on the 450-MHz Pentium II.

PC makers are expected to announce their new Celeron and the fastest Pentium II desktop systems yet Monday, timed to arrive with Intel's introduction of the new and improved low-cost processor and its newest Pentium II processor.

Intel's first Celeron processor came under fire because it lacked a critical feature called "secondary cache" memory, which serves as a data reservoir for the processor and boosts performance. But Intel has brought back the cache memory in the newest version, Celeron A, code-named Mendocino, and performance has subsequently improved, some say rivaling Pentium IIs.

But Celeron A's marked improvements are putting PC makers in a bit of a quandary as they try to figure out how to market Celeron A systems that may rival Pentium II systems for performance.

"I do think it's an artificial division," said Dataquest analyst Scott Miller. "What the market seems to understand very well is clock speed. Vendors who offer Pentium II systems overlapping in clock speed with Celeron systems will find it more difficult to sell the Pentium II products."

Compaq is expected to announce its Presario 5050 with a 333-MHz Celeron processor. The new system will feature 96MB of memory, an 8GB hard drive, CD-ROM drive and 56-kbps modem, for $1,299, according to market research firm ARS.

Gateway is expected to use the 333-MHz Celeron chip in its G and GP series systems for consumers and small businesses. Gateway's use of the chip is significant because it was one of the larger manufacturers to forego the first round of Celeron chips.

Dell Computer is expected to offer the 333-MHz Celeron processor in a new Dimension consumer and small business systems and as an upgrade to some existing models in its OptiPlex line of corporate PCs.

Other PC makers such as IBM, Toshiba, Packard-Bell, and Hewlet-Packard are all slated to announce their Celeron A systems Monday as well, with most configurations coming in under $1,100.

Online PC marketer iDot will being selling Celeron A systems on its Web site on Monday as well. IDot's 333-MHz Celeron A with 64MB of memory, a 6.4GB hard drive, 56-kbps modem and CD-ROM drive will cost $1,099, according to sources at that company.

These companies are all expected to also announce support for Intel's new 450-MHz Pentium II on Monday as well.

Compaq will introduce the 450-MHz Presario with 128MB of memory, 12GB hard drive, DVD-ROM drive, and a 56-kbps modem for an expected $2,799, according to ARS.

Hewlett-Packard has already begun shipping its 450-MHz Pavilion consumer PC to retailers. The Pavilion 8395 with 450-MHz Pentium II, 10.2GB hard drive, 56-kbps modem, and DVD-ROM drive is priced at $2,599. iDot is offering a similar 450-MHz Pentium II system but with CD-ROM instead of DVD drive for $1,799.

IBM will bring out a PC code-named Cobra that will come with 128MB of memory and a 16.8GB hard disk for about $2,000.

Dell is expected to make announcements across the board regarding the use of the Pentium II 450-MHz chip in its desktop, workstation and server products. Gateway is expected to use the 450-MHz Pentium II in a variety of server, workstations and desktop systems, as well.

"It's not easy to have a strong brand at the high-end and the low-end," said Miller, referring to the positioning of the 450-MHz systems. "I go back and forth on whether I think they can do it successfully."

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