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VA Linux offers inexpensive desktop PC

The best-known Linux computer maker expands its product line in a new direction, inexpensive desktop computers costing less than $800, that puts it up against heavyweight competition.

VA Linux Systems has expanded its product line in a new direction--inexpensive desktop computers.

The StartX SP2, costing less than $800, marks a new low-cost mark for inexpensive computers from the company, the best-known Linux computer maker. Most of VA's sales and revenue come from rack-mountable servers, bought dozens or sometimes hundreds at a time for jobs such as delivering Web pages.

The Linux operating system has one substantial cost advantage over Windows: It's free. In comparison, the price manufacturers pay to Microsoft for a Windows license becomes more and more significant as the cost of computer hardware drops.

Most experts agree Linux is too technical for average computer users, however. VA is aiming this system at Web site developers and people already familiar with the operating system.

Cheap computers aren't always an easy business. Companies such as Enchilada or Microworkz have disappeared, while Emachines stock has sunk to $5.63, well below its offering price. In addition, the Linux Store has backed off from an earlier plan to offer cheap Linux PCs, company executives have said.

VA faces another complication: Mainstream companies such as Dell and IBM have started selling Linux desktop and laptop computers.

VA's StartX, with either a Celeron or Pentium III chip, also uses Intel's 810E chip set, which means the computer doesn't need a separate graphics system. The machine also has integrated network capability and a sound card and comes with a year of technical support.