From the March 1998 issue of Startups

If you're in the market for a reasonably priced, no-frills multimedia PC for your home or office, here's good news for your budget: A small but growing number of companies are offering PCs that retail for less than $1,000.

How do sub-$1,000 PCs differ from their more expensive counterparts? While the less expensive machines are relatively fast, versatile and fully-featured, their processors, hard drives and other features are several notches below the top of the line in terms of capability. For example, while a PC that sells for $2,500 may have a 300 MHz Pentium II processor and a 3.2GB hard drive, a typical sub-$1,000 PC may feature a 180 MHz processor and a 1.6GB hard drive. These are fairly minimal capabilities and may not be adequate for demanding applications such as graphics or sound. However, this doesn't mean you're getting stuck with an antiquated clunker. Value-priced PCs can be upgraded to suit your changing needs by installing interchangeable components, such as additional RAM or a larger hard drive, which can be installed with relative ease. These additions are necessary if you plan to run graphic-intensive applications or run several applications under Windows simultaneously. There is a general trend in software design toward larger and more elaborate packages--some all-in-one office suites take up to 200MB of hard-drive space to install--so if you use this type of software, you might consider paying more for a large hard drive now, before you run out of disk space.

How can computer makers afford to offer such low prices? Manufacturers are constantly perfecting the design of the CPU, adapting it to execute tasks such as multimedia acceleration and RAM storage that are usually performed by costly additional chips in the PC. Simply put: Fewer chips mean lower PC prices. And by keeping prices down, manufacturers hope to make PCs affordable to a much wider range of consumers, increasing sales of both PCs and related peripherals.

Whether you're interested in getting online or putting together a low-cost network for your office, a sub-$1,000 PC can provide great value for your money if it meets your computing needs. (Note that, in many cases, the suggested retail price does not include a monitor, which can add another $250 to $500 to the price of the PC.)

Model: Compaq Presario 2200
Phone: (800) OK-COMPAQ
Estimated street price (ESP): $799 (not including monitor)
Features: 180 MHz processor, 16MB RAM, 1.6GB hard drive, 8X CD-ROM, 33.6 Kbps modem
Warranty: parts, one year; labor, 90-day on-site, one-year carry-in

One of the most affordable multimedia PCs on the market today, the Compaq Presario 2200 offers PremierSound high-performance stereo speakers incorporated into the design of the machine, MPEG full-screen video playback and 64-bit graphics for smoother, cleaner displays. This PC also comes bundled with Microsoft software.

Model: Digital Equipment Corp. PC 3010
Phone: (800) DIGITAL
ESP: $969 (not including monitor)
Features: 166 MHz Pentium MMX processor, 16MB RAM, 1.2GB hard drive
Warranty: parts, two years on-site; labor, one year

If you want to share information among two or more computers, the PC 3010 is a good buy: It's bundled with ClientWorks manageability software that improves information-sharing efficiency. Ultra DMA and SMART disk drives provide higher disk-processing speed and protect data integrity. The PC 3010 is optimized for Windows 95/NT and uses Synchronous Dynamic RAM (SDRAM) for faster memory access.

Model: Seanix Technology Baby Grand CS
Phone: (800) 555-4031
ESP: $999 (including monitor)
Features: 166 MHz Pentium processor, 16MB RAM, 1.6GB hard drive, 24X CD-ROM
Warranty: motherboard, CPU and memory, five years; all other parts, three years on-site

The Baby Grand CS comes fully loaded with a 14-inch monitor, a 16-bit sound card and Altec Lansing ACS90 speakers. Seanix also offers your choice of a 33.6 Kbps fax/modem or a 10/100 Ethernet adapter for network connectability. The business version of this model, the Baby Grand TCO, includes a 15-inch monitor, an Ethernet adapter and LANDesk Client Manager 3.0.

Model: IBM Aptiva E16
Phone: (800) IBM-3333
ESP: $899 (not including monitor)
Features: 166 MHz K6/MMX processor, 16MB SDRAM, 2.1GB hard drive, 20X CD-ROM, 56 Kbps Flex Protocol modem
Warranty: parts and labor, one year

IBM has won design awards for the Aptiva series and backs the E16 with a free, one-year membership in IBM's Owner Privileges customer support program. The Aptiva series incorporates some of the latest technology, such as ATI Rage II+ 3D Graphics, SDRAM and a dedicated audio processor. The purchase price of the E16 includes Lotus SmartSuite97.

Model: Hewlett Packard Brio 8012
Phone: (800) 752-0900
ESP: $987 (not including monitor)
Features: 166 MHz MMX processor, 16MB RAM, 2.1GB hard drive
Warranty: parts and labor, three years (one year on-site)

Hewlett Packard has redesigned the Vectra 500 to meet small-business needs by shifting to a minitower configuration for greater expandability and bundling networking resources so users can better allocate shared resources such as printers and Internet access. Brio PCs also include a new keyboard that offers one-stroke access to the most frequently used applications, and PC Doctor diagnostic software.

Model: Acer Aspire 1252
Phone: (800) SEE-ACER
ESP: $999 (not including monitor)
Features: 200 MHz K6/MMX processor, 16MB RAM, 2.0GB hard drive, 20X CD-ROM, 33.6 Kbps fax/modem
Warranty: parts and labor,one year

Packaged with the beginning user in mind, the Aspire makes setup easy with color-coded cables and pre-installed Microsoft Works and AOL software. Three serial ports and two open PCI slots give the Aspire room to grow. The Acer Service Center, a range of diagnostic software covering everything from the CD-ROM to a Virus Scan Utility, helps keep it healthy.