It could give the biggest boost yet to the K-12 dream of putting a full-powered computer in front of every student. It’s the emergence of fully equipped personal computers selling at retail for under $1,000 — sometimes substantially so. And indications are that this breakthrough is just the beginning. Industry analysts predict the era of a PC selling near $500 is not far away.

Since early January, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Packard Bell have been offering full-powered PCs for less than $1,000. In recent days Digital Equipment (DEC) and Gateway 2000 got into the game by introducing competitively priced models.

You’ll want to check them out before buying up those network computers. You might just find that you can get a more flexible system for less than what you’d pay for a NetPC.

Priced under $800

But if you’ve been waiting for the right moment to lower the student-to-computer ratio or even set up that home office, this might be just the time to do it. These computers are ideal for users looking to do word processing, spreadsheets, online banking—any standard Windows-based application. The systems are also powerful enough to let you do some pretty nimble web surfing and eMail. Two of the desktops—Compaq’s and Hewlett-Packard’s—are priced at a remarkably economical $799. Packard Bell’s comes in at $999.

One thing you won’t get with any of these systems is a monitor, but that renders these “deals” only a little less exciting, because monitor prices are way down, too.

Hewlett-Packard was the first to throw its hat into the sub-$1K market by announcing the Pavilion 3260. A day later, Compaq followed suit by releasing its latest Presario line.

Both systems will give you a 200 MHz processor, 3 2M of RAM, a 2.1 G hard drive, and a 56 Kbps modem. With HP, you’re getting a Pentium processor. The Presario 2240 runs on a chip by Intel-rival AMD (Advanced Micro Devices).

The entry of AMD and Cyrix Corp., another manufacturer of high-speed processor chips, is what finally nudged Intel to drop the cost of its Pentium processor in the low-end computer market—one of the reasons end-users are seeing these low prices. Some industry analysts are predicting that computers will spike down to that $500 mark by year’s end.

For two hundred bucks more you can get Packard Bell’s low-end contender, the R515. You’ll get the same specs as the HP and Presario plus a 3.2 G hard drive. Or, for the same $200, Compaq will throw in a 14-inch color monitor.

And these aren’t the low-end empty boxes of the past, either. They are designed from the ground up as low-cost machines that come packed with power and ready to run Windows 95 fully loaded. You’ll also get CD-ROM drives, modems, and lots of speed.

Two newcomers to the sub-$1K market are Digital Equipment (DEC) and direct-mail wizard Gateway.

DEC scaled back prices by 20 percent on its line of business PCs, putting three models even further under the thousand dollar mark.

The DEC 3010 with an AMD 166 MHz processor is now $863, while $900 will get you a 166 MHz Intel Pentium. In either model you get 16 Mb of RAM and a 1.2 G hard drive.

For $99 more you can get the speedier PC 3100, with 200 MHz, 16 Mb of RAM, and a 2.1 G hard drive.

At press time Gateway was expected to beat out its direct-mail competitor Dell in being the first to offer a sub-$1K PC. Gateway’s computer will come network-ready and with a 15-inch monitor, sources said.

Education buyer beware

Good as these low prices are, you can’t assume you’ll get a company’s best price by looking only at the education product line. In researching this story, eSchool News has learned that the models earmarked especially for education don’t necessarily include the machines with the lowest prices.

With a 14-inch monitor, the Presario 2244ES, Compaq’s education model, is priced at $1,199. For that you get about the same “guts,” plus a lot of software you may or may not want.

Links:

Packard Bell
http://www.packardbell.com

Compaq
http://www.compaq.com

Hewlett-Packard
http://www.hp.com

Digital Equipment Corp.
http://www.dec.com

Gateway 2000
http://www.gateway.com

Micron
http://www.micron.com