Suddenly, major PC companies have gotten serious about selling to the low end of the market, offering computers at prices up to $1,000 less than their standard PC lineups.
But what are buyers giving up by purchasing such a system? Is component quality lower? Is the technology less than cutting-edge? How about service and support?
The short answer is these machines are just as reliable as their more expensive counterparts. And they use the same microprocessors -- the brains of the computer.
But manufacturers do make trade-offs to keep prices low. Expansion and service options, for example, are often limited with bargain PCs. And manufacturers may use parts that are reliable but provide slower performance.
A look at Dell's 10-product Dimension family shows the pluses and minuses in investing in a low-end PC. The lineup includes five desktop machines, three floor-standing PCs and two notebook models. Prices start at $1,259 for a 25-megahertz 386SX-based system.
First, there are fewer product configurations available with the Dimension line compared to the options with its standard PC family, called the Dell line. Configuration refers to the various parts of the system, including the type and quality of the display monitor, capacity of the hard drive and amount of memory.
The Dell line is available in some 15,000 configurations, while the Dimension line has about 300. Of course, users can configure their own machine any way they want it. These are just the alternatives available from Dell itself.
In some cases, Dimension PCs don't offer as much technology innovation as the regular Dell line. For example, Dell notebooks include special circuit designs to prolong battery life. That technology is not available in the Dimension notebooks.
The bottom line is this: If you are in the market for an inexpensive personal computer, by all means check out these new offerings. But know in advance what you need, then find out who offers the best solution.