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Dell touts $900 notebook

Dell Computer is taking another swipe at the retail PC market with a new, lower-priced notebook PC for consumers.

Dell Computer is taking another swipe at the retail PC market with a new, lower-priced $900 notebook PC for consumers.

The Round Rock, Texas, PC maker on Monday launched its new Inspiron 1100 and Inspiron 5100 notebook models, starting at $899 and $1,199, respectively. The twin machines replace its Inspiron 2650 and SmartStep notebooks.

The new Inspirons share an industrial design and a chassis that uses Pentium 4 processors intended for desktop PCs. The company hopes the new machines will take advantage of recent trends such as strong sales of notebooks to consumers and small businesses buying larger, more powerful models.

Dell, which sells directly to customers, is looking to capitalize on consumers' growing interest in "desknotes," machines that offer higher performance and a lower price due to a desktop Pentium 4 chip, which is faster and cheaper than Intel's notebook Pentium 4-M chip. However, desknotes' trade-offs include a higher weight and shorter battery life, which means less portability.

Dell's Inspiron 1100 will start $899, a lower price than most desknotes. Its standard equipment includes a 2GHz Intel Celeron processor, a 14-inch display, 128MB of RAM (random access memory), a 20GB hard drive and a CD-ROM drive. Upgrade options include a 15-inch screen and 2.4GHz Pentium 4.

The Inspiron 1100's low starting price allows it to rival a number of systems from Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba sold at retail. However, analysts say Dell may have to offer rebates or other incentives for the new Inspiron 1100 to match some of the deals available from its competitors.

Manufacturer rebates and other incentives allow retailers to offer similar models with more features than the $899 Inspiron 1100 for the same or lower prices.

"Its price is in the ballpark before rebates," said Steve Baker, an analyst with NPD Techworld. But "it's not competitive with a lot of deals we're seeing these days at retail stores. You're seeing notebooks with 256MB of RAM, CD burners and some 15-inch screens at $900 or less after rebates."

This week's CompUSA Sunday flier lists two examples. The store offers an HP Pavilion ze4210 notebook with a 1.6GHz Celeron, a 14.1-inch display, 256MB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive for $699 after rebates. The machine normally sells for $949. The flier also lists a Compaq Presario 2100US with the same processor, screen size and RAM allotment, along with a combination CD-RW/DVD drive and 30GB hard drive, for $799. The machine normally costs $1,049.

Deals such as these don't pop up every weekend and are often limited to stock on hand. Thus they require consumers to be willing to shop around. But they demonstrate that the notebook market is becoming a "competitive, go-for-the-throat kind of business," Baker said. "Now, in terms of PCs, it's really the place to be, and everyone's jockeying for position."

Dell likely will offer incentives such as rebates or free add-ons on the Inspiron 1100, something it already does on the rest of its notebook models. Meanwhile, the company expects to continue selling its Inspiron 2650C--a model that will eventually be replaced by the Inspiron 1100--for discounted prices.

But for now, upgrading the Inspiron 1100 to a 15-inch screen will cost customers an extra $50, while a combination CD-ROM/DVD drive will add $150 to the price, upping the cost of the machine to $1,098, according to Dell. RAM and hard drive upgrade are available as well.

While Dell will aim the Inspiron 1100 at price-sensitive buyers, as previously reported it will tout its Inspiron 5100 to customers who want higher processor speeds, higher resolution 15-inch displays or additional features such as an IEEE 1394 port or wireless networking. The machine, which starts around $1,199 with a 2.4GHz Pentium 4, a 15-inch display and a 30GB hard drive, will be available with Pentium 4 chips up to 2.8GHz.

Details on the Inspiron 1100 will be posted on the Web on Tuesday, a Dell representative said.