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Dell boosts price and performance of entry-level notebooks

Dell has upgraded its low-priced SmartStep notebook line with two more expensive SmartStep laptops.

The SmartStep 200N and 250N are now on sale on Dell's Web site, while the SmartStep 100N has been discontinued.

The latest SmartStep 200N and 250N represent significant upgrades in both price and components, starting at $1,499 (£955) and featuring Intel's desktop Pentium 4 processors at 2.0GHz and 2.2GHz respectively. The SmartStep 100N shipped with a 1.06GHz Intel Celeron processor.

Many companies have started to include desktop processors in notebook PCs to bring high performance and low cost to mobile users, said Ketan Pandya, marketing manager for consumer notebooks at Dell.

"We wanted to wait until we were sure we had solved all the problems with that type of configuration," such as limited battery life and thermal problems, before introducing desktop processors to mobile users, Pandya said. The latest SmartStep notebooks feature larger batteries than other Dell notebooks and last about three hours, he said.

The new SmartStep notebooks do have one thing in common with their predecessor, in that they are preconfigured notebooks, a departure from Dell's traditional build-to-order sales model.

"We are still targeting the buyer who is looking for more of a retail experience," said Pandya, explaining that inexperienced users can be overwhelmed by the many choices available on Dell's Web site, and prefer the single-configuration ordering model.

The 200N is priced at $1,499 with the 2.0GHz Pentium 4, 256Mbytes of memory, a 30Gbyte hard drive, and an 8X DVD-ROM drive. The 250N, with the 2.2GHz Pentium 4, 256Mbytes of memory, a 40Gbyte hard drive and an 8X CD-RW/DVD drive sells for $1,899 (£1,210).

Dell also released the Inspiron 4150 notebook, which will target at mobile professionals, families and students, a Dell spokesman said. It will replace the Inspiron 4100, which will be available for a short time on Dell's Web site, the spokesman said.

The Inspiron 4150 features Intel Pentium 4-M processors running at speeds of up to 2.0GHz, using the Intel 845MP chipset. The notebook starts at $1,499 with a 1.6GHz Pentium 4-M processor, 256Mbytes of double data rate (DDR) RAM, and a 30Gbyte hard drive. A configuration that adds a 2.0GHz Pentium 4-M processor, a 24X CD-RW/DVD drive, and an enhanced graphics display sells for $2,479 (£1,580).

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