Less than a week after the introduction of Intel's Pentium III chip, PC sellers are falling over themselves to provide the cheapest machines based on the new processor.
A whole host of PCs running on the PIII are available in the UK high street and from PC builders. The choice ranges from PC World's #899 machine and - at the high end - a #2,099 offering from Evesham Micros.
But industry observers remain sceptical about the merits of putting this ultra fast chip in the home computer of ordinary consumers.
Andy Brown, research analyst at IDC, said the basic business or home user would not benefit greatly from a Pentium III chip.
"In lower end, cheaper PCs, you often don't need that much power. It is really just an extended Pentium II, but still priced at a premium," he said.
Luke Ireland, a director at PC assembler Evesham Micros, was also sceptical about the cheaper machines. He said: "Most people who want Pentium III systems won't buy these cheap PCs - it's more for enthusiasts. If someone spends #900 on a computer, they shouldn't allocate one third of this price to the processor."
Evesham Micros has 31 different models of the PIII, ranging from the Evesham Vale PIII 450MHz, with 64Mbyte of memory and a 6.4Gbyte hard drive at #929 + Vat, to the Pentium III 500MHz, 128Mbyte of memory and a 12.7Gbyte hard drive with in built satellite receiver card at #2,099 plus Vat.
Although it is most useful for games, surfing the Internet and downloading graphics, the PIII will no doubt be in demand. IDC's Brown said: "It's like buying a new car - people want the latest. And Intel has such an enormous percentage of the market that people will increasingly request its Pentium III."
Direct vendor Gateway has also put the chip in its PCs, but says its direct model means there will be little price difference between the PII and PIII based Gateway systems.
"Our low overheads and limited inventory enable us to sell this technology at current Pentium II processor prices," said Mike Swalwell, Gateway UK & Ireland managing director.
Anyone wanting to buy a Fujitsu PIII based machine in the UK will have to take a trip to Tesco - the Japanese PC company is using the supermarket as its only PIII channel for the Myrica multimedia PC, which retails at #1,180 including Vat. It comes with a PIII 450MHz, 128Mbyte Ram and 10Gbyte hard drive. It will be introduced in other stores in the next few weeks.
Frank O'Brien, Fujitsu sales director for UK & Ireland, said demand for PIII systems had been phenomenal. "The advertisement went in the paper on Thursday, and by 10am Friday 1,000 phone calls had been taken," he said. The arguments against putting such a powerful chip in cheaper PCs did not wash with O'Brien.
He added: "At #1,180, including free installation and one year warranty, you'd be nuts not to buy it."
Pentium III based PCs are available from other vendors as well, including Compaq, IBM, Dell, Tiny, Viglen, Dan Technology, Carerra, Time and Mesh Computers.
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