Gateway notebook goes for ratings

Don't touch that dial. Gateway is trying to woo consumers with a special-edition notebook sold via the Home Shopping Network.

Don't touch that dial. Gateway is trying to woo consumers with a special-edition notebook sold via the Home Shopping Network.

The Poway, Calif.-based PC maker will officially launch the notebook, dubbed M500, on Monday. But the machine, which is based around a 15.2-inch wide-angle display, has already hit the HSN cable channel. Monday's introduction will make it available via Gateway's own Web and phone sales channels.

Targeting shoppers at home, in addition to using direct and retail sales, isn't a new strategy for Gateway or other PC makers. Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell Computer have pitched PCs via HSN or QVC, another cable shopping channel.

Many PC makers have turned to the cable channels or mass merchandisers like Costco in an effort to boost sales or to reach new customers. Both HP and Dell have offered PCs through Costco, for example, and HP has been successful selling several top-of-the-line PC models there.

HSN and QVC give the PC companies a small, but relatively easy, chance to sell more PCs because the manufacturers know ahead of time what to expect, said Steve Baker, an analyst with NPD Techworld.

"You're really talking about a fixed volume channel," he said. "You either build a limited number (of PCs) or take orders. Then you don't have to carry inventory, as PCs go directly to the customer."

For the 12-month period ending in April, HSN and QVC combined sold about 70,000 PCs, according to NPD Techworld, which tracks the retail market in the United States.

However, Gateway is also using the M500 as an experiment to test demand for special-edition notebooks. It will sell the M500 for a period of time and then replace it with a new special-edition machine, likely in the fall, executives said.

The M500 is geared toward the back-to-school season for adults and students who want a notebook that emphasizes audio and video performance. The M500's wide screen enhances playback of DVD movies, for example, while a built-in subwoofer offers better sound than a standard notebook, the company said.

As part of the experiment, Gateway is specifying the hardware for the M500. Other Gateway products allow buyers to select their own components, such as processor speed or hard drive size, at the time of purchase.

Aside from its 15.2-inch wide-angle display, the M500 incorporates a 2.2GHz Intel Pentium 4-M processor, 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a CD burner/DVD-ROM combination drive, an Nvidia graphics board and an 802.11b wireless networking module.

The 7-pound machine sells for $1,599.