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Compaq preps back-to-school PCs

Summer vacation has just begun, but one computer maker is already getting ready for back-to-school shoppers and incorporating "smart card" keyboards.

NEW YORK--Summer vacation has just begun, but one computer maker is already getting ready for back-to-school shoppers.

Compaq Computer on Wednesday announced three new models of Presario desktops, starting around $550. The company also will ship several new notebooks in the next month. Compaq made the announcement at the PC Expo convention, part of Technology Exchange Week New York.

The company's rivals are following with their fall lineups. Hewlett-Packard already announced Monday a new Pavilion consumer notebook with a 1GHz Athlon 4 chip. And Emachines is expected to announce soon a $999 desktop with Intel's Pentium 4 processor.

But in this difficult PC market, price may not be everything. Compaq, to help differentiate its consumer PC, will offer a "smart card" keyboard with the new desktops.

Presario buyers will be able to use the keyboard to swipe a smart card, which stores credit card information and other data such as shipping address, for secure online transactions. Compaq's first smart card banking partner is the Northeast's Fleet Bank.

"We want to deliver some much greater end-user value...without increasing end-user price," said Will Townsend, a senior marketing manager in Compaq's Consumer Products Group, referring to the new keyboard.

The keyboard will be part of the price of new Presario 5000 and 7000 PCs sold at retail. When purchased through the company's online store, the keyboard will cost a nominal $34.

Compaq also is adding new software, including WayTech Development's Coloreal, which allows desktop PCs to display what it describes as true-to-life colors.

The company's Presario 7000 will offer processors from Advanced Micro Devices and Intel. A basic configuration with a 1.33GHz AMD Athlon processor, 256MB of double data rate SDRAM, a 40GB hard drive, and both DVD and CD-rewritable drives will sell for $1,300.

see special coverage: PC Expo: On the go The PC also can be configured with a high-end ATI graphics AllinWonder Pro graphics board and software that allows the machine to record TV programs to its hard drive. It also can come with a DVD-recordable or DVD-rewritable drive. When configured with the DVD-R drive, the Presario 7000 will sell for $2,000 or more, but the machine will double as a video production studio, allowing a person to download and edit videos on the machine via an IEEE 1394 port and then record and distribute them on DVD discs.

Compaq's Presario 5000 will offer Intel's Pentium III and AMD's Athlon processors at speeds up to 1.2GHz. The PC will range in price from $799 to $1,299.

The Presario 4000 will offer Intel's Celeron and AMD's Duron processors. A machine with a 900MHz Duron chip, 128MB of RAM, a 30GB hard drive and a CD-rewritable drive will sell for about $550.

On the mobile side, Compaq is preparing to announce several new Presario notebooks in mid-July.

The Presario 1215US will offer a 1GHz Athlon 4 mobile processor, a 14.1-inch display, and a combination DVD and CD-RW drive. With a 20GB hard drive and 192MB of RAM, the notebook will sell for $1,899.

A Presario 1210US will offer an 850MHz mobile Duron chip, a DVD drive and 128MB of RAM for $1,499.

see Tech Trends: PC Expo product reviews A new Presario 1800US will sport a high-resolution, 15.1-inch SXGA display, along with 16MB of video RAM--whereas most notebooks offer 8MB. The machine will have a 900MHz mobile Pentium III chip and will include the combination DVD and CD-RW drive. The pricing was not immediately available.

Compaq will round out its new notebooks with a Presario 1200, featuring an 800MHz mobile Celeron chip, a 13.3-inch, active-matrix display, and a DVD drive for $1,299.