Dell releases pair of low-cost notebooks

Budget-conscious consumers who want the convenience of a laptop computer will have two new options from Dell Computer: the SmartStep 100N and the Inspiron 2600.

These machines, announced Monday, are targeted at first-time notebook purchasers and entry-level users, said Anne Camden, a spokeswoman for Round Rock, Texas-based Dell. One target group is "a parent looking for a second PC for the children," she said.

The SmartStep, equivalent to Dell's desktop SmartStep D100, comes in only one configuration and is priced at US$899 on Dell's Web site, including a $50 discount exclusive to Web purchases. The Inspiron 2600 comes in a variety of configurations, said Camden, and is priced at $949 with the $50 online purchase discount from Dell.

Both notebooks "are good buys," said Rob Enderle, research fellow at Giga Information Group Inc. in Santa Clara, California. "(The notebooks) offer decent performance, and have scored well in benchmarking tests," he said. However, Dell will probably attempt to sell consumers on notebooks with more functionality and options, after having attracted them to Dell through low prices, he said.

"This seems like more of a marketing initiative," he said, predicting that consumers would likely be pitched the Inspiron 2600 with one of its higher-performance configurations after inquiring about the SmartStep 100N. Dell's margins on a machine like the SmartStep 100N are probably minimal, he said.

The SmartStep 100N comes with a 14.1 inch XGA (extended graphics array) display, a 1.06GHz Celeron processor from Intel Corp., 128M bytes of shared SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), a 20G-byte hard drive, and an internal 24X speed CD-ROM drive. It weighs 6.8 pounds (3.1 kilograms) and measures 12.9 inches (32.77 centimeters) by 10.8 inches (27.43 centimeters) by 1.45 inches (3.68 centimeters).

The Inspiron 2600 is the lowest-priced model in Dell's Inspiron notebook line. The base configuration comes with a 1.06GHz Celeron processor, but users can upgrade to Intel's Mobile Pentium III processors at either 1GHz or 1.13GHz. The machine also features expandable memory up to 512M bytes and as much as 40G bytes of hard disk storage. It weighs 6.8 pounds (3.1 kilograms) with a 14.1-inch display, or 7.6 pounds (3.42 kilograms) with a 15 inch-display.

The Smartstep notebook is available only in the U.S. and Canada as of Monday, but it will be rolled out in China and the U.K. within 60 days, Camden said. The Inspiron 2600 is available now globally. Those wishing to purchase the notebooks must either visit Dell's Web site

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