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Gateway ready for debut on retail stage

The PC maker hopes to return to its former glory beginning Thursday with the help of Best Buy.

Gateway-brand PCs will make their retail market debut in the United States this week.

The PC maker, now headquartered in Irvine, Calif., will begin selling a pair of 5.5-pound Gateway-brand notebooks through Best Buy stores on Thursday.

The new Gateway-brand notebooks will be part of the first wave of new Gateway-brand PC models following the company's acquisition of eMachines, last March. Since March, when Gateway named former eMachines CEO Wayne Inouye as its new chief executive, the company has closed its chain of 188 retail stores and concentrated on striking deals with third-party retailers like Best Buy to sell its PCs. Gateway announced last week an agreement with Best Buy to sell Gateway-brand notebooks and desktops. Gateway has also been working on beefing up its direct-sales PC business.

Gateway's retail approach will use its two brands to target different kinds of buyers. It will position Gateway-brand PCs as premium machines, differentiating them from its eMachines models, which are already well known as low-price PCs. Thus its Gateway-brand notebooks will emphasize features such as portability and battery life, wooing students and second- or third-time notebook buyers, while eMachines models will aim for first-time buyers or those looking for lower prices or more powerful notebooks to replace desktops.

Thus customers prowling the aisles at Best Buy stores will find the new Gateway 4520GZ and 4525GZ models, designed to serve students and second- or third-time notebook buyers by emphasizing portability. The 5.5-pound, 1.1-inch thick notebooks will each sport a 15-inch screen, Intel 1.5GHz Pentium M 705 processor and Wi-Fi. The 4520GZ will cost $1,399 and come with 512MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive and a combination CD-burner/DVD-ROM drive. The 4525GZ, priced at $1,549, will offer upgrades to a larger 80GB hard drive and a combination DVD-burner/CD-burner drive, according to Best Buy's Web site.

Gateway will also take the wraps off of three new eMachines desktop-replacement notebook models on Thursday. The new eMachines notebooks, whose prices will range between $1,349 and $1,699 before rebates, according to Best Buy's Web site, will aim for customers who seek desktop replacements that come with widescreen displays and high performance for relatively good prices.

The eMachines M2352 will pair a 15.4-inch widescreen display with Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon XP 3000+, 512MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive and a combination CD-burner/DVD ROM. It will sell for $1,349 before rebates. The eMachines M6810 will pair the 15.4-inch widescreen display with AMD's mobile Athlon 64 3200+ processor, an ATI Radeon 9600 graphics processor and a combination CD-burner/DVD-ROM drive. It will cost $1,499 before rebates. Finally, the eMachines M6811 will offer upgrades to a mobile Athlon 64 3400+, an 80GB hard drive and a combination DVD-burner/CD-burner. It will sell for $1,599 before rebates. Gateway will offer $100 mail-in rebates on all three machines, according to Best Buy. Although the company does not plan to offer any mail-in rebates on its Gateway-brand PCs sold at retail, some stores may offer them.

While Gateway is looking to third-party retailers such as Best Buy to help it boost its unit sales, it also wants to boost its direct sales. To that end, it will begin selling two new notebooks directly to customers on Thursday. But where Gateway plans to offer both Gateway-brand and eMachines-brand notebooks and desktops at retail, it will sell Gateway-brand PC models only directly to customers.

For customers looking for a lightweight notebook, Gateway has a new 5.5-pound M320 model. The most basic M320, the M320CS, will start at $1,099 and come with a 14.1-inch screen, a 1.3GHz Intel Celeron M 320 processor, 256MB of RAM, a 30GB hard drive and a combination CD-burner/DVD-ROM drive, a Gateway representative said.

The M320 will scale up to $1,799 or more with its M320XL, which includes a 1.7GHz Pentium M 735, a 15-inch screen, 512MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive and a DVD-burner, the representative said.

Customers interested in desktop replacement notebooks will be offered the new Gateway M520. The machine will start at less than $1,000 and offer a range of screen sizes and processor choices, including Intel Celeron or Pentium 4 processors and come with either a 15-inch or 15.4-inch widescreen display, the representative said.

While several of its notebook models stem from the same basic chassis, Gateway will ensure that the machines serve different markets by affixing them with different model numbers, features and prices. Gateway's direct sales PC models will also be more configurable as Gateway plans to return to allowing customers to purchase directly to let them custom configure their machines, the company representative said.