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PC makers rev up 3GHz releases

Intel's newest Pentium 4 chip, due this week, should soon let loose a torrent of new, high-performance desktop PCs. But they won't be cheap.

Intel's new 3GHz Pentium 4 chip should soon let loose a torrent of new, high-performance desktop PCs.

It may be a year before the 3GHz chip, expected this week, and its hyperthreading feature catch on among business buyers, but gamers and those willing to spend a bundle will have them both on hand for the holidays.

PC makers such as Dell Computer will offer the 3GHz chip in their performance-oriented desktop models, which sell for $2,000 and above.

A Dell representative on Tuesday confirmed that the company would offer the new chip when Intel makes it available.

But the manufacturers are also expected to pair the new chip with a number of other top-of-the-line components to form high-test, special-edition desktops that sell for $3,000 or more.

These machines will include the new Pentium 4, along with 512MB to 1GB of RAM, hard drives ranging from 120GB to 200GB, DVD burners, large flat-panel displays with screens sized 17 inches or greater, and ATI Technologies' new Radeon 9700 Pro graphics board. Many manufacturers made similar offers with the launch of the 2GHz Pentium 4.

But the newest 3GHz special-edition desktops will likely cost less than some of their predecessors, the first 1GHz PCs. Some of the desktops that included the first 1GHz Athlon and 1GHz Pentium III chips sold for thousands more than this week's expected crop--some for as much as $5,999.

Meanwhile, desktop PCs with Advanced Micro Devices' new Athlon XP 2700+ and 2800+ chips are also expected to begin shipping fairly soon. The 2700+, for example, will be available from major manufacturers this month, AMD has said.

While they will offer the new systems, the manufacturers are somewhat realistic as to their sales prospects. They acknowledge that they'll target only the kind of PC buyer who wants to do much more than just check e-mail and browse the Web.

Indeed, the audience for special-edition desktops is getting even smaller, as many deep-pocketed consumers opt to spend the $2,000 to $3,000 they would pony up for such a desktop on a notebook instead.

The latest data from NPD Techworld, which tracks retail sales, underlines that trend. While desktop unit sales in the U.S. retail market declined by about 6 percent year over year in September, notebooks unit sales increased by 20 percent, the firm said.

Notebooks have seen double-digit, year-over-year increases in monthly unit sales throughout most of this year, while desktops have generally seen declines.

But building a high-end desktop is still worth the effort for manufacturers, as the high-end PCs are generally more profitable than are more commonplace desktops, and the machines can also create a so-called halo effect, boosting the performance image of a PC maker.