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AST joins notebook price trend

The second price cut from a major vendor this week could spell the beginning of a battle in the portable arena.

AST Research cut notebook prices today by 5 to 13 percent, the second price cut from a major vendor this week and a move that could spell the beginning of a price war in the portable arena.

Earlier today, Toshiba announced introduced a new 166-MHz Pentium MMX notebook for the retail market. The new Satellite 305 CDS will be marketed at a relatively low $1,699.

The price actions and new products come, said Toshiba executives, in response to increasing competition among portable manufacturers as well as lower-than-expected net profits. The company, in fact, reduced its earnings estimate for the fiscal year, which ends in March.

Further price actions, as well as niche marketing techniques to reach small businesses and the education market, will become a feature of the portable market in 1998, added Randy Guisto, notebook analyst for International Data Corporation.

AST's price cuts come across its entire line of notebooks and include systems running Windows 95 and Windows NT.

The Ascentia M5130, which comes with a 133-MHz Pentium MMX processor, 32MB of memory, and a 1.6GB hard drive, was cut $100 and will now sell for an estimated retail price of $1,799.

The M5160T and M5160X, which have been selling for $2,739 and $3,329, respectively, will now sell for suggested retail prices of $2,599 and $2,899, decreases of 5 and 13 percent. Both computers come with a 166-MHz Pentium MMX processor and 32MB of memory. The 5160T comes with a 12.1-inch screen and a 1.6GB hard drive while the 5160X comes with a 13.1-inch screen and a 2.1GB hard drive.

The M5230T and M5230X were reduced to $3,300 and $4,000, respectively; currently, these 233-MHz Pentium MMX laptops sell for $3,789 and $4,649. The M5230X comes with a 13.1-inch screen, 64MB of memory, and a 4.0GB hard drive. The 5230T comes with a 12.1-inch screen, 32MB of memory, and a 3.0GB hard drive.

AST, once one of the more dominant computer makers, has seen its market share and influence drop off considerably in the past few years. Previously ranked in the top five PC vendors, the company ranked only 17th in market share at the end of last year, according to IDC. In December, the company laid off 1,100 employees, approximately 37 percent of its workforce.