Lenovo launches low-cost PCs for small businesses

Lenovo takes aim at SMB competitors with $349 desktop and $599 laptop.

Lenovo Group has launched a series of low-cost PCs, taking aim at the small and medium businesses now dominated by Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

Lenovo will attempt to shoulder aside those companies with its "Lenovo 3000" product family, featuring a desktop PC and a laptop.

The company is positioning the new computers as a stylish "smart choice" compared to its classic "black tuxedo" ThinkPad line, executives said in a press conference.

The new line includes the C Series of notebook PCs running on Intel processors and the J Series of desktops running on either Intel or Advanced Micro Devices.

The Lenovo J Series desktop PCs and C Series notebooks will be available in Australia in March. Australia pricing for the J105 and J100 desktop PCs will be announced by March 1st. Prices for the C100 start at AUS $1199.

Industry analysts say Lenovo faces a marketing challenge since these are the first self-branded products launched by the Chinese company since it acquired the PC division of IBM in 2005.

The company hopes to clear that hurdle with a marketing campaign centered on sponsoring the Olympic Winter Games, now happening in Torino, Italy.

It will also borrow from the premium reputation and robust technology of its ThinkPad line, discounted for smaller budgets.

"This is a more aggressive price point than we've used in the past," said Bob Galush, vice president of marketing for the company's desktop business unit. "These are less robust; you don't get the roll bar and the air bag you get with the ThinkPad line. But some customers are willing to pay for that and some are not. This gives them the choice."

In fact, this is the second recent bargain product offered by Lenovo. Adding to its stable of enterprise level M-series and A-series ThinkCentre desktops, it released the E-series for small business owners in October 2005. Now the J-series extends that family to shed more robustness and optimize the price.

Using that leverage, the company hopes to duplicate its success in the Chinese small and medium business (SMB) sector, where it has a 26 percent market share, compared to just six percent for SMB worldwide, said Craig Merrigan, Lenovo's vice president of branding and strategy.

Lenovo actually has a larger share of the worldwide enterprise business market -- 15 percent -- but SMB is growing much faster, he said. To tap into that market, Lenovo is marketing the 3000 series as a low-maintenance, low-price option, compared to the rock-solid, premium reputation of the ThinkPad.

The difference stands out in the different advertising tag lines: the ThinkPad is sold as "carried by those who carry companies," while the 3000 series is targeted at customers who want to "make history, not backups."

From the customer's point of view, the 3000 line will be self-reliant, with built-in tools that can reduce IT expenses in the cost-sensitive small-business environment, according to Lenovo. Faced with a catastrophic software failure from a malicious virus, a user can hit a one-button system-recovery feature that will diagnose the damage, get help and eventually recover operations.

The C100 notebook runs on the user's choice of Intel Pentium M or Celeron M processor, with certain models offering the Centrino mobile platform. Either way, the 6.2-pound (2.8 kilograms) computer offers 802.11 wireless LAN, Bluetooth and Ethernet connectivity, a multicard reader for digital pictures, and four USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports packed into a 1.3-inch thick package.

The J100 and J105 desktop PCs offer serial ATA drive support, six USB 2.0 ports, and front-side audio. The difference is that the J100 runs on either the Intel Celeron D or Pentium 4 processor, while the J105 uses an AMD Sempron or Athlon chip. The J105 is outfitted with Windows XP Home and the low-end Sempron chip. The J100 is outfitted with Windows XP Pro and the high-end Pentium 4.

Finally, Lenovo executives shared their road map for future releases of laptops in the 3000 series. Today's C100 offers a 15-inch regular-format display screen. By March 2006, the N100 will have a choice of 14.1- and 15.4-inch wide screens, and by the second quarter of 2006, the V100 will have a 12-inch wide screen.

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