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The lure of low-cost PCs grows

Study: Compared to last year, plummeting prices will prompt 50 percent more buyers to snap up a home computer this holiday season.

Plummeting PC prices are luring 50 percent more buyers into the home PC market this holiday season than last year, and IBM and Apple are leading the way, a study has found.

A survey this month found that 13 percent of United States households say they're very likely to buy a home computer, a study by MarketMaps and Centris shows.

The biggest reason for the purchases is that people want to further their children's education, said Bill Ablondi, author of the survey. In addition, lots of people want to get online, and younger adults want to make sure they can play computer games.

In a turnaround from last year, there are more first-time buyers this year than repeat buyers, the survey found. A total of 55 percent of likely buyers are new to the market this year, whereas last year households already owning a computer were more likely buyers.

IBM is the leader in the brand people plan to buy, with 19 percent voting for Big Blue, Ablondi said. "IBM has done a good job at building the perception that their products are not overly expensive," he said.

The result should please IBM, which was late entering the low-cost computer market.

However, Ablondi noted, many people say "IBM" when they actually mean "IBM-compatible," so the true percentage of probable IBM buyers is more likely 13 percent or so.

That's still a step ahead of Apple, which came in at second place with 10.5 percent planning to purchase a Macintosh. "Apple is clearly back in the consumer market in a strong way," Ablondi said, led by the novel iMac, the perception that Apple's financial situation has improved, and the fact that Apple has "carved into people's minds the fact that Macs are easier to use."

Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Gateway are running "neck-and-neck" for the next places, he said.

However, 42 percent of buyers still haven't decided which brand they want, so marketing will likely make a difference, he said.

The survey also found that nearly a quarter of those new purchases are gifts for the holiday season, Ablondi said, so computer makers can expect happy holidays.

The average budget for a new PC is $1,500, Ablondi said.