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Dell releases specialty PCs for stock traders

The computer maker will begin to sell workstations optimized for the online investor, part of an industry-wide effort to broaden the variety of home computers.

Dell will begin to sell workstations optimized for the online investor, part of an industry-wide effort to broaden the variety of home computers.

The Round Rock, Texas-based PC manufacturer today said it will begin to sell its Precision Workstation 220 to home consumers bundled with professional-grade investment software and data feeds from Equis, NeoVest and Data Broadcasting, among others, depending on the customer order.

Prices run from around $2,000 for a 733-MHz Pentium III system with a single monitor, to $3,523 for a system with two 19-inch monitors, two processors, a 10GB hard drive and 128MB of Rambus memory. Cup holders are optional.

"This package provides a system with capabilities comparable to those of professional traders," said Dave DuPont, marketing manager for Dell, in a statement.

Dell's push toward power is part of an overall strategy unfolding at computer makers and major suppliers such as Intel to capitalize on the popularity of online trading and, more importantly, to diversify the consumer PC market.

"We're building the bridges between the (computer makers) and the software providers to improve the investor experience," said Tom Gibbs, director of vertical marketing at Intel. "People want to take charge of their own investment decisions, but they need access to data, and they need to have a comparable set of tools."

PCs for stock traders are only the first step. For years, PCs have performed a variety of tasks. Now, there is a perceived disparity between the needs of the intense game player or stock trader and the average consumer.

Last month, Intel reorganized its PC groups into the Intel Architecture Group to explore opportunities for specialized PC marketing. The group will contain 1,000 employees and be armed with $100 million in development funding.

Although it's far from certain that such a vertical marketing strategy will work, the rewards could be substantial. Consumers currently suffer from a glut of options. Simply put, there's a mountain of software and hardware out there. Integrated packages could boost sales, especially for software companies or content companies that land deals with major PC manufacturers.

These specialized systems also cost much more than standard consumer PCs. A dual-processor, dual-screen system can run several thousand dollars. The high price, naturally, will also likely emerge as one of the major stumbling blocks to acceptance.

The idea for an investor-centric PC emerged from the stunning growth of Internet investing and the difference between professional investing tools and home computers. Professional traders often use difficult-to-configure multiple-screen setups because of the sheer volume of data they must monitor--live bid/ask figures on several dozen stocks, order windows, chat rooms and news feeds.

The number of online trading accounts in the United States is expected to grow from around 7 million to more than 20 million by 2003, according to Jupiter Communications. Assets held in online accounts are expected to grow to $3 trillion, according to figures from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Online investing accounts for 40 percent of the market in Korea, the country with the deepest penetration for electronic trading.

But while home investing has grown in popularity, the technology options for consumers have lagged, Gibbs said. Many stock analysis applications, such as TradeStation from Omega Research, aren't marketed to consumers. Even when the software is available, individuals typically don't have the time, spare funds or patience to test different software packages.

"They have to evaluate this stuff sight unseen because there's no one in their living room testing things," Gibbs said.

Reducing the disparity can largely be accomplished through integration. The technology exists--it's a matter of making it consumer-friendly. Some software packages, for example, need to have graphical interfaces added to them. Computer makers also have to add modems to their standard corporate workstations.

Trader-centric PCs will grow in complexity over time. The first wave will contain analytical applications. In the next stage, PC makers and Intel will work with brokerage houses to improve data feeds and data access. Toward summer, the companies will work to shovel data from these programs onto devices.

If the trend takes off, PC makers and brokers likely will strike deals with each other for providing ways to market the entire gamut of services and technology that home investors will need.