Backing the trend towards sub-£1,000 PCs, makers are offering an unprecedented number of systems that aim for the bucket shop part of the market.
Systems start at under £500 (all prices exclude VAT), many based on AMD or Cyrix processors. Evesham Micros is typical, offering a Cyrix 6x86 PR-166-based system with 16Mb RAM, 1Gb hard drive and 14-inch monitor for just £499.
Elonex's Lumina 166 uses Cyrix's very cheap MediaGX processor with 16Mb RAM, 1.7Gb hard drive, 16-speed CD-ROM drive and 14-inch monitor for just £595.
A more punchy spec for an affordable price is available from Carrera which has a £999 'Christmas Special' system based on AMD's K6-200 with 32Mb EDO RAM, 2.1Gb hard drive, ATI 3D Rage II graphics, 24-speed CD-ROM drive, 56Kb/sec modem, 15-inch monitor, Altec Lansing speakers and a Microsoft Sidewinder Joystick.
Some vendors are trying odd gimmicks.
Compaq, another vendor using the MediaGX, in September launched a consumer deal for its Presario line, where customers could create their own software bundle from a range of titles from Electronic Arts, Dorling Kindersley and others.
"That was their Christmas present," joked Lisa Clarke, senior product marketing manager. Pentium MMX-based PCs are selling strongly, as are Compaq notebooks, she added. "We've hit the key price points and money talks. There are no real big surprises." The firm also offers home set-up to reassure novice PC users.
Not everyone is aiming low, however.
A desktop sure to garner a lot of attention is Viglen's HomePro, the first PC to be co-branded with the Microsoft logo. Available through the Dixons Stores Group and carrying a slightly hefty looking price tag, the cheapest of the firm's Home Pro line costs £1,599 for a 200MHz Pentium-based system with 16Mb RAM, 2.5Gb hard drive, 24-speed CD-ROM drive, 33.6Kb/sec modem and 15-inch monitor.
Another vendor that has long pulled in home punters without reaching for the ground on price is Dan Technology. The London-based direct seller's best looking Xmas deal is its Home II Plus, a £1,564 system with 32Mb SDRAM, 3.2Gb hard drive, 15-inch monitor, 56Kb/sec modem, 24-speed CD-ROM drive and huge software bundle.
Similarly, Gateway 2000's entry-level machine this Christmas is the G5-200 (£899 + VAT), a 200MHz Pentium MMX-based desktop with 32Mb SDRAM, 2Gb hard drive, 24max-speed CD-ROM drive, 15-inch monitor and software bundle including Microsoft Office 97Small Business Edition, Encarta 97 and MS Money 97.
Of course, users have to exercise proper caution and consider whether lowest-cost specs are really filling their needs but some of the deals look bargains, reflecting a sluggish market for home PCs in the UK.
Dan 0181-830 1100
Gateway 2000 - 0800-282000