August 18, 2004 2:01 PM PDT

Wal-Mart offers sub-$600 notebook

Wal-Mart Stores has begun selling a Wi-Fi notebook PC for less than $600, which analysts say could herald a laptop push by the retailer for the holiday season.

The retail giant began offering the wireless notebook, manufactured by Taiwan's Elitegroup Computer Systems, in late July for online sales only. It's listed at $598, without discounts or mail-in rebates.

Wal-Mart has traditionally sold only a limited number of notebook models, including laptops from Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba. Instead, it has concentrated its marketing efforts on desktop PCs, but it also sells lower-priced machines based on the Linux operating system.

The move suggests that Wal-Mart is evaluating new strategies to pump up notebook sales during the 2004 holiday season and possibly beyond, said Sam Bhavnani, an analyst with Current Analysis, a San Diego firm that tracks retail sales.

"It's a very entry-level configuration," Bhavnani said. "But it does have wireless, which makes it a very compelling offer. That's where this system will pose a threat (to brand-name PC makers) once it hits the shelf. The Wal-Mart customer is going to see it there, see the price and just buy it."

In addition to wireless, the ECS notebook comes loaded with a 14.1-inch display, an AMD Athlon XP 1600+ processor, 128MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a DVD-drive, Wi-Fi 802.11b and Microsoft's Windows XP Home Edition operating system. It also carries a one-year warranty, according to Wal-Mart's Web site.

Although it's fairly common for stores to sell notebooks for as low as $500, the Wal-Mart offer stands out because it does not require customers to use discounts and mail-in rebates to get the PC for the $598 price.

Moreover, the ECS machine offered by Wal-Mart includes Wi-Fi, a feature that's become very popular on notebooks in general, but which many rock-bottom-priced systems still lack, Bhavnani said.

One potential shortcoming is that the Wal-Mart/ECS model has only 128MB of RAM, as opposed to the 256MB more common in competing systems. But first-time or budget buyers might be willing to overlook that, given the machine's price.

But in general, technology progression has lowered prices on PC components, which means that today's cheap notebook is much more capable and less costly than yesterday's budget machine. Most low-price notebooks can now burn CDs and can usually connect to wireless networks--features that were once reserved for high-end models that cost thousands of dollars.

Just two years ago, it took almost $1,000 to buy a machine such as Gateway's Solo 1450SE, which in June 2002 offered a 1.3GHz Intel Celeron chip, a 14.1-inch screen, 128MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive and a DVD drive for $999 after a $100 mail-in rebate.

Lower prices have helped notebooks see a recent rise in popularity, and their sales are expected to grow faster than the overall PC market. Research firm IDC forecast that laptop computers will make up nearly half of all PC shipments in the United States and almost 40 percent of such shipments worldwide by 2007.

So it's no surprise that Wal-Mart, which sells sub-$300 desktops loaded with Linux, might want to explore the lower reaches of the notebook market, Bhavnani said. "At $600?you can basically guarantee they're going to sell all of those (ECS machines)," he said.

Although it's early to say whether laptop sellers should be worried--Wal-Mart carries a lot of weight with its nearly 2,900 stores and so-called supercenters--competition at the lower reaches of the notebook market is already quite stiff.

Retailer CompUSA, for one, is advertising a nicely loaded Hewlett-Packard Pavilion ze4805us notebook for $849, after $250 in instant and mail-in rebates. It comes with a 15-inch screen, Athlon XP 2800+ chip, 256MB of RAM, 60GB hard drive, Wi-Fi 802.11g and combination CD-burner/DVD drive. The offer is good through Aug. 21, according to the store's Web site.

Wal-Mart's retail site lists a nearly identical Pavilion ze4805WM-B model, which appears to lack Wi-Fi, for $928.

Even Dell has gotten into the low-price game. Its Inspiron 1000 notebook, introduced earlier this summer, starts at $899 before rebates. The most basic Inspiron 1000 configuration includes a 2.2GHz Intel Celeron processor, a 14.1-inch display, 256MB of RAM, a 30GB hard drive and a combination CD-burner/DVD-ROM. It does not include wireless (a $39 upgrade) and it offers a standard 90-day warranty (a one-year warranty is a $29 upgrade). However, Dell offered the machine with a $100 mail-in rebate and a free printer through Wednesday.

11 comments

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Ummm...
Do you people check anything?

This laptop is only available ONLINE for a limited time.

Plus the 128MB of RAM is shared by the integrated graphics!! 128MB is much too low for Windows XP to be very useable.

Anyone who buys a PC/notebook at Wal-mart deserves what they get.
Posted by dirk128 (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is problem with journalism today...
...sloppy work that pretty much destroy's credibility of the story.

"Although it's early to say whether laptop sellers should be worried--Wal-Mart carries a lot of weight with its nearly 2,900 stores and so-called supercenters--competition at the lower reaches of the notebook market is already quite stiff"

As another poster wrote, it is clearly identified on Walmart's web that the product is only available online, thus, for the most part, nullifying the "2,900" stores except for returns.

Second, unlike Radio Shack and Circuit City, I'm not even sure why Walmart runs a website, since it seems to be totally independent of company stores. You can't check inventory of local stores, you can't ship to local stores to avoid shipping charges and Walmart's website carries many items that have never been available at local stores.

Another poorly researched story by the writers of cnet.com.
Posted by bobtheman22 (21 comments )
Link Flag
Low Cost PCs
COSTCO stocks $1279 Tablet PC.
Posted by gthurman (67 comments )
Reply Link Flag
WalMart sucks
Dont shop at Walmart in the first place. Their stores suck. They make way too much money for the shi*ty service, low-cost low-quality products, and horrible employee treatment. Plus, that notebook will run quite slow seeing how WIndows XP requires 128mb min. memory and the notebook only has 128 and it is shared with video, meaning it will be significantly less than 128.
Posted by KDoggMDF (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: Walmart Sucks
I don't know what town you live in but the Wal-mart here is a great store. I have never had any negative experience with the employees or customer service.

I am glad to see that Wal-mart did not get caught up in the 'Rebate' trap. I refuse to buy another computer because of rebates. I've had to jump through hoops (almost literally!) for Compaq, HP and Circuit City in the past. I will only buy products that do not depend on rebates that are next to impossible to receive.
Posted by sarcasticmama (11 comments )
Link Flag
Why? Backup your comments with examples
Either you were fired or you're upset with W*Mart without just cause. How about explaining to us neophytes who shops BestBuy the reason you are so mad about W*Mart?

BTW, most computers are purchased at computer stores, not discount household supplies distributors.

People with low income are lucky to have a product within their pricepoints, considering that the rich can always lavish highend systems to their college bound student/child. This brings education back to a competitive level.

[http:// I couldn't afford a computer when I went to college to major in Computer Architecture. So, if W*Mart had a system like this when I was going to school, who knows where I might have ended up if fully equiped with a laptop. Maybe I wouldn't have to wait in line until 2AM on Friday night, just to get some CPU/terminal time on the mainframe to do my homework. Anyway, sleep didn't matter much when one have no money anyway.|http:// I couldn't afford a computer when I went to college to major in Computer Architecture. So, if W*Mart had a system like this when I was going to school, who knows where I might have ended up if fully equiped with a laptop. Maybe I wouldn't have to wait in line until 2AM on Friday night, just to get some CPU/terminal time on the mainframe to do my homework. Anyway, sleep didn't matter much when one have no money anyway.]

(yes, sarcasm was very much intended. )
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
Well Now
Hot dog, for $600 bucks, no sweat, dump the Winblows XP, load Linux, good to go.

Seee Ya
Posted by (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wal-Mart does suck.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://mysite.verizon.net/resrey1h/walmartsucks/" target="_newWindow">http://mysite.verizon.net/resrey1h/walmartsucks/</a>

The above link will tell the real story.

Remember, now, it was not my fault the box was empty, my mistake was not opening it up in the store to make sure it was in there.

Anytime I go to buy something, I won't purchase until I open the box, and confirm everything is in there. Losing $50 taught me well.
I won't shop at Wal-Mart anymore. I'll go to K-Mart.
Posted by markofkane (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wal-Mart does suck.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://mysite.verizon.net/resrey1h/walmartsucks/" target="_newWindow">http://mysite.verizon.net/resrey1h/walmartsucks/</a>

The above link will tell the real story.

Remember, now, it was not my fault the box was empty, my mistake was not opening it up in the store to make sure it was in there.

Anytime I go to buy something, I won't purchase until I open the box, and confirm everything is in there. Losing $50 taught me well.
I won't shop at Wal-Mart anymore. I'll go to K-Mart.
Posted by markofkane (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well, well, well. Wal-Mart is fair.
I got a gift card, in exchange for the item, so I am elated. Disregard prior post!!!!
Posted by markofkane (5 comments )
Link Flag
 

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