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Dell bulks up low-end PC

The computer maker is offering a new consumer machine with Intel's 1.7GHz Celeron chip for $629--$20 cheaper than the PC it replaces.

Dell Computer is offering a bit more for less, with a new low-end desktop PC for consumers.

The company on Tuesday began taking order for the Dimension 2300, a desktop based on Intel's 1.7GHz Celeron chip.

The new PC, which starts at $629--$20 less than its predecessor the Dimension 2200?will include the 1.7GHz chip, 128MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive and a 15-inch monitor.

A number of manufacturers offer desktop PCs in the $600 to $700 range. But Dell touts the newer machine as a better value than its precursor, the Dimension 2200. That machine started at $649 but offered a 1.3GHz Celeron chip.

The Dimension 2300, which is built with an updated chassis and an industrial design that mirrors its more expensive siblings, also sports dual-drive bays--a first for Dell's low-priced PCs. This means that a customer could replace the CD-ROM drive with a CD-rewritable drive and then add a DVD drive, for example.

The new Dimension also gains faster built-in graphics by using Intel's 845GL chipset and offers extra USB 2.0 ports. Dell placed two USB 2.0 ports, which are used to connect devices ranging from portable MP3 players to printers and keyboards, on the front of the PC and four more in the back of the PC.

The new 2300 gains its extra speed from Intel's newer Celeron, which is based on the chipmaker's Pentium 4 processor. The older 1.3GHz Celeron in the 2200 machine was based on the Pentium III. Despite the clock speed increase to 1.7GHz, analysts said that the Pentium 4-based Celeron performs only slightly better than the fastest Pentium III-based Celeron, a 1.4GHz chip.

The 2300 faces stiff competition in the consumer market.

Emachines' T1862, for example, includes a 1.8GHz Celeron, 256MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive and a CD-RW drive. It sells for $675 without a monitor and before rebates. Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard's Pavilion 522n comes with a 1.8GHz Celeron, 256MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive and CD-RW and DVD drives. It is priced at $799 without a monitor.

For buyers seeking Dell's lowest price, the company will continue to offer its SmartStep 150D, a fixed configuration desktop that sells for $599. It includes a 1.3GHz Celeron, 128MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive and a 15-inch monitor.

The first Dimension 2300 shipments are slated to begin in about two weeks, a Dell representative said.