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Dell Unveils Off-The-Rack PC

For most shoppers, Dell Computer Corp.'s low-end desktop PC is the Dimension 2100 -- a compact minitower with Intel's Celeron processor and integrated graphics and audio chipset, starting at $699 before buyers apply their choices from a myriad of disk, display, and other options.

But for consumers looking for a no-fuss, easy-to-order, Model T type of homework or Web-surfing experience -- in other words, the nontechnical types who tend to buy PCs from retail superstores -- the direct vendor has introduced an off-the-rack family value: the SmartStep 100D, a $599 bundle of 1.0GHz Celeron PC, 15-inch monitor, and Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition, plus a 56Kbps modem and six months of AOL Internet access.

The prebuilt SmartStep has the same Intel 810 chipset (which borrows some of its 128MB system memory for graphics) and 48X CD-ROM drive as the next-step-up Dimension 2100, but none of the build-to-order options: If you'd like a 17- rather than 15-inch (13.8-inch viewable) monitor, DVD or CD-RW rather than CD-ROM, or bigger than 20GB hard disk, Dell steers you toward the Dimension line. The only options are a $50 upgrade from 90 days to one year of phone support and mail-in repair service, plus a few choices for families seeking to buy a printer or scanner along with their new computer.

Dell says the SmartStep 100D can get a family surfing the Web, downloading music, or e-mailing friends for as little as $18 a month (times 45 payments, with no payments for the first 90 days). Small business customers can buy a $499 SmartStep configuration with no monitor, an Ethernet network adapter instead of dial-up modem, and Windows 98.