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Sub-$200 PCs: from Netbook to Ultra-Portable to Full-Size

Traditionally, retail stores offer ultra low-cost personal computers (ULCPCs) as "doorbusters". As technologies get more advanced, ULCPCs gain premium features like high-definition video playback and DirectX 11-class graphics even though their primary tasks remain simple: web browsing and productivity applications. So, do not expect serious performance from such systems.

Partly due to general improvements of specifications, partly because of new platforms and partly because of increased prices of hard disk drives, but there are not a lot of sub-$200 systems advertized for Black Friday and the whole Thanksgiving weekend. We managed to find only a few interesting sub-$200 mobile computers that belong to different classes of systems: a netbook, an ultra-portable notebook and a full-sized laptop.

The lowest-cost netbook that will be available this Black Friday is Acer Aspire One 10.1" (AOD25713404) for $157 at Target stores. The system is based on single-core Intel Atom microprocessor N455 (1.66GHz), is equipped with 1GB of DDR3 memory, 250GB hard disk drive (5400rpm), Wi-Fi and other necessary equipment. The PC sports 10.1" screen with 1024*600 resolution as well as Windows 7 Starter and Microsoft Office Starter.

CompUSA plans to offer Acer Aspire One 11.6" (A180-116402) ultra-portable notebook for $199 (flyer) in its stores on Black Friday. The system is based on AMD C-60 (1GHz) accelerated processing unit (APU) with integrated Radeon HD 6000-series DirectX 11-class graphics processing unit and is equipped with 2GB of DDR3 memory, 320GB hard drive, 11.6" display with 1366*768 resolution and integrated webcam, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n etc. The laptop is powered by Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit.

The most powerful among the lowest-cost laptop PCs is Lenovo model 438343U laptop with 15.6" (1366*768 resolution) screen and AMD dual-core E300 (1.30GHz) accelerated processing unit, which Best Buy will sell for just $179 in its stores on Black Friday only. The system has 2GB of DDR3 memory, 250GB hard drive, DVD±RW/CD-RW optical drive, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, webcam and so on. Like any modern PC, this one runs Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit.

Those, who will not manage to get the Lenovo machine, may try their luck at Walmart, which will offer HP Compaq Presario CQ57-319qm laptop with AMD dual-core C50 APU, 2GB DDR3, 250GB HDD, ODD, Wi-Fi webcam and so on for $198. The system will offer slower performance than the Lenovo model 438343U, but similar general features and capabilities.

In spite of claims by manufacturers of personal computers, they hardly really want to produce PCs that cost less than $200. Moreover, end-users customers can see the difference between a $200 system and a $400 machine and recognizes indisputable advantages of the latter. The past twelve months already brought low-cost systems high-def video, DirectX 11 graphics and GPGPU acceleration. Better mobile computers for $200 (with improved screens, larger HDDs, etc) will further reduce profit margins of PC makers and this is not something they want. Therefore, it is hard to expect tangibly better sub-$200 PCs than the notebooks mentioned here in the next twelve months simply because neither AMD nor Intel intend to introduce substantially better platforms for ULCPCs shortly. All-in-all, we would not expect a lot of sub-$200 PCs to emerge going forward and with shortages of hard drives, such computers may simply disappear from the market for a while. If you need one of such PCs, get it now.

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