Prices steady for new PCs

Keyboards with built-in smart-card readers are destined to become standard PC equipment, but not this year.

After a withering industry downturn, PC makers are innovating with caution.

The sub-$1,000 pricing that shaved manufacturers' profits is holding firm or creeping upward because of superfast new gigahertz processors, the extra memory they demand, capacious hard drives and popular DVD/CD-rewritable drives. And the beige box has given way to darker-toned industrial designs.

New notebook PCs are edging down in weight while building in the latest gigahertz mobile processors and more wired and wireless connectivity than ever.

"A lot of wireless campuses are being set up," said MicronPC LLC's Jay White, but security concerns have kept organizations from embracing Bluetooth personal area networking.

On the desktop side, Dell Computer Corp. is emphasizing LCD monitors, for which it now claims to be the leading provider. An OptiPlex GX240 black-and-graphite minitower with a 15-inch LCD, a 1.8-GHz Pentium 4 processor and a 40G hard drive goes for $1,299.

EMachines Inc. of Irvine, Calif., continues to keep a $400 price point for its gray-and-black systems with Celeron or Athlon processors and CD-RW drives.

Gateway Inc. has a $1,299 deal similar to Dell's, with a 15-inch LCD but a 2-GHz Pentium 4 CPU. Gateway's E-Series lineup continues its earlier graphite design at an $849 entry price.

Hewlett-Packard Co. is merging elements of its own and the former Compaq Computer Corp.'s lines in the Evo D510, which comes in the small, 10-pound chassis design of the 2-year-old HP e-PC as well as in standard desktop designs. The Evo D510 starts around $700 without monitor.

IBM Corp. is clearing out its 1.8-GHz NetVista PCs for $749 to $1,009, without monitor but with a free uninterruptible power system. A streamlined, ergonomic NetVista X with integrated LCD goes for $2,199.

MicronPC LLC of Nampa, Idaho, makes a smart-card keyboard with a built-in reader, and it has put a fingerprint reader into the 5-pound, $2,049 TransPort T1000 notebook PC. Multiple passwords and log-in IDs can be linked to one fingerprint. The user can designate a file, a partition or the entire hard drive for encryption.

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