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1GHz machines for the masses coming soon

Once pricey, top-of-the-line machines, PCs with processors running at 1GHz are quickly becoming mainstream items.

Once pricey, top-of-the-line machines, PCs with processors running at 1GHz are quickly becoming mainstream items.

Consumers now can find $1,000 PCs that sport 700MHz, 800MHz or even 900MHz processors, and analysts say they will soon find models priced at a buck a megahertz.

The first 1GHz processors from Advanced Micro Devices and Intel alone cost as much or more than a $1,000 PC. AMD's initial pricing on the 1GHz Athlon chip was $1,299, while Intel priced the then hard-to-find 1GHz Pentium III at $990. The chips now list for $233 and $425, respectively.

Analysts believe 1GHz PCs will hit the $1,000 mark with the introduction of 1GHz value processors starting in the third quarter of this year.

Both AMD and Intel "will get there soon" with their low-cost chips, said Kevin Krewell, a senior analyst with Micro Design Resources.

"I would say by the third quarter they would hit that mark, though it also depends on configuration," he said. "You could do it today, but it wouldn't be an appealing machine."

A consumer could, for example, use Compaq Computer's Web site to configure a new Compaq Presario 7000 series PC with a 1GHz Athlon chip and 128MB of RAM to be priced at about $1,200. But certain options, such as a DVD-ROM drive, a high-end graphics card, premium speakers and a larger 17-inch monitor, must be forfeited to arrive at the price.

That could be in part because "neither Intel nor AMD wants the value parts to be too good, because it takes away from the more expensive parts," Krewell said.

"Maybe this crazy gigahertz race is slowing down just a little bit," he added.

Though value 1GHz chips may not be coming as quickly as their high-end counterparts did early last year, AMD is still moving aggressively to hit the mark.

The chipmaker had originally stated plans to offer a 900MHz Duron in the second quarter of this year, followed by a 950MHz Duron in the second half.

But during AMD's most recent earnings call, CEO Jerry Sanders upped the ante, saying he thought Duron would pass 900MHz in the second quarter of this year and hit 1GHz in the third quarter.

AMD, which was first to the 1GHz mark by two days, is likely moving more aggressively to hit certain retail cycles, including the fall back-to-school period and the holiday buying season. The 1GHz Duron would hit around the back-to-school period, sources said, and systems will likely reach the $1,000 mark by the holidays.

It's also not out of the question that PCs-based on 1GHz Athlon chips or 1GHz Pentium IIIs could reach the $1,000 mark.

When AMD launches its next Athlon chip--a 1.33GHz chip--toward the end of March, the chipmaker will also drop prices on slower Athlon chips, moving each one down a rung on its pricing ladder.

Meanwhile, Intel is on track to deliver its 850MHz Celeron chip in the second quarter, according to industry sources. It is also expected to offer a 900MHz Celeron in the third quarter.