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Emachines hopes to book school sales

The budget PC maker is unfurling its back-to-school computer lineup of four new PC models, ranging in price from $399 to $749 without a monitor.

Budget PC maker Emachines has unfurled its back-to-school computer lineup in the hope that the market makes the grade this year.

The Irvine, Calif.-based PC maker announced on Wednesday four new PC models, ranging in price from $399 to $749 without a monitor. The new PCs are currently shipping and will be the company's lead PC models during the back-to-school season.

Next to the holidays, the back-to-school season has traditionally been the best time for PC sales, but the market has slowed, both overall and seasonally, over the last couple of years. Merrill Lynch on Tuesday cut its 2002 forecast for the PC industry, saying it now expects unit sales to inch up just 2.5 percent over last year, down from its earlier prediction of 10.5 percent growth.

"The back-to-school market, which usually helps the September quarter, has not materialized to a great degree the past two years and may disappoint this year once again," the brokerage said in a research note.

IDC analyst Roger Kay agreed, saying that consumer confidence is down because of the economy. Kay added that seasonal indicators may not be as useful as in the past. Student interest in technology has shifted from PCs to other less expensive categories, such as digital audio players and cell phones.

"We still factor seasonality into our forecasts, but there are some issues as to whether it's still operating," said Kay. "It's not the force it once was."

Dell Computer is still holding out hope that the back-to-school season will come back from its recess, as it yesterday announced a sweepstakes where it plans to give away $50,000 a day all month. Those who buy a new PC from Dell will automatically be entered into the contest.

Dell has passed Apple to become the sales leader in the education market, and Dell says its popularity is growing among college students.

Emachines, which specializes in low-cost computers, earlier this year adopted a new look, a black and silver motif, to its PCs. The company has also been working to improve its customer care program by adding new services, such as a five-day turnaround for repairs and authorized service centers in retail stores throughout the country.

The T1220 desktop PC comes with an Intel 1.2 GHz Celeron processor, 128MB of memory, 20GB hard drive, 56kbps modem and 48x CD-ROM drive. After a $75 mail-in rebate, the T1220 costs $399, which makes it one of the cheaper "branded" PCs on the market.

Next up on the food chain is the T1440, which comes with an Intel 1.4GHz Celeron processor, 128MB of memory, 40GB hard drive, 56kbps modem, 24x CD-RW drive and a built-in Ethernet card. It costs $499 after a $75 mail-in rebate. For an additional $100 after a $75 mail-in rebate, Emachines has the T1860, which includes an AMD 1.53GHz Athlon XP 1800+ processor, 256MB of memory, 60GB hard drive, 56kbps modem, 32x CD-RW drive and a Ethernet card.

Also for $599 after a $75 rebate, Emachines is selling the T1862, which is essentially the T1860 with an Intel 1.8GHz Celeron processor, 24x CD-RW drive and 6 USB 2.0 ports.

The top-of-the-line model, the T2080, comes with an AMD 1.67GHz Athlon XP 2000+ processor, 512MB of DDR memory, 80GB hard drive, 56kbps modem, 32x CD-RW drive, 16x DVD-ROM drive and Ethernet card. The system costs $750.