AST's 9000 Advantage line is broken down into Education, Home Office, Communications, Gamer, and General models. The new PCs are targeted to specific markets, each with specific needs, said Richard Zwetchkenbaum, a senior analyst with market research firm International Data Corporation.
"They are customized configurations optimized for the preferences and orientations of specific classes or categories of users," he said. "AST has picked up and run with a very hot trend in the marketplace this year--lifestyle PCs."
AST is the first manufacturer to include Intel's Intercast Internet-TV technology across an entire model line. Compaq Computer has included the cards since July in only certain units sold at select CompUSA retails outlets.
Users with an Intercast card installed in their PCs can simultaneously view TV programs and related Web content.
AST's new Communications model also includes Intel's ProShare videoconferencing software and an analog camera for use over standard phone lines. All models include an 8x CD-ROM and speakers.
The Home Office model will include a scanner, and a 4GB hard drive will be offered for the first time in a consumer PC in the 9308 or 9314 model.
Features unique to the Gamer and Communications models include a 28.8 DSVD (digital simultaneous voice data) modem, which allow users to speak on the phone and send or receive data at the same time. The Gamer model features an Altec-Lansing speaker system with 40-watt subwoofer and a 3D graphics acceleration card.
"We had focus groups in from different [areas of interest], and we found that what consumers wanted was the latest technology, and then specific lifestyle solutions," said Hollie Cronin, product marketing line manager for AST. "We do want to emphasize that first and foremost, these multimedia PCs for the whole family, but there are also features specific to these interest groups."
Zwetchkenbaum is particularly interested in AST's positioning of the Education model. Price has most often been the differentiating feature of models destined for schools, but studies show that education is the largest driver of computer purchases. So instead of stripping down, AST is adding on features like a fast modem and the requisite educational software titles.
More importantly, Zwetchkenbaum believes that the product's features are more directly tied to something that the consumer values--namely, providing a better life for their children through education. And that kind of marketing is what consumers are likely to see more often if AST is successful with its new line.
The Education, Home Office and General models are already shipping, and the Communications and Gamer models are set to ship on September 9.