Remaining a ranking player in the fluid American personal computer market is expensive. Just ask NEC CORP. Having already committed $1.3 billion in cash and assets to PACKARD BELL NEC, INC. since mid-1995, including $300 million at the end of 1997, the electronics giant is in the process of investing another $225 million in the world's number-five maker of PCs. The Sacramento, California-headquartered company will use the money to support restructuring moves initiated in recent months (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 340, January 1998, p. 3, and No. 345, June 1998, p. 2). Even with the infusion of NEC capital, Packard Bell NEC is not expected to earn money until the second half of 1999 at the earliest. That forecast is more relevant now than before because once regulatory barriers are cleared, Packard Bell NEC will become a majority-owned NEC subsidiary and its results will be included in the Japanese company's consolidated statements. NEC had resisted this change, keeping its share of the PC manufacturer's voting rights at 49 percent. With the latest investment, its stake will go up to 52.81 percent.
Broadening its distribution channels to better reach small and midsized corporate customers, the NEC Computer Systems Division of PACKARD BELL NEC, INC. has tied up with direct marketer INSIGHT ENTERPRISES, INC. The Tempe, Arizona company sells via the telephone and the Internet. Businesses also have the option of purchasing equipment directly from NEC CSD or buying from an authorized reseller. NEC CSD products, targeted at the commercial market, include Versa notebook computers, Direction PCs, PowerMate desktop computers, Express5800 servers and MobilePro handheld PCs. Computers marketed under the Packard Bell name are aimed at the home market.
Staying in step with its bigger American competitors, the NEC Computer Systems Division of PACKARD BELL NEC, INC. announced that its line of high-end corporate desktop computers and its workstation series would be available in September with the fastest Pentium II processor currently available from INTEL CORP., a 450-megahertz part, as well as with that company's performance-enhancing 440BX chipset. Both families now use either a 350-MHz Pentium II processor or a 400-MHz version. Pricing for the PowerMate 8100 desktop system with a 450-MHz processor, 6.4-gigabyte hard drive and 64 megabytes of internal memory starts at $2,400. The dual processor-capable PowerMate 9000E PC workstation sporting a 450-MHz Pentium II, a 4.5-GB Ultra2 SCSI (small computer system interface) hard drive, 64 MB of internal memory and an 8-MB video card goes for $3,400.
To woo cost-conscious small and midsized business customers, the NEC Computer Systems Division of PACKARD BELL NEC, INC. introduced two PowerMate desktop machines priced right around $1,000. The PowerMate 5100 and 5100N offer a choice of a 266-MHz, 300-MHz or 333-MHz Celeron processor or a 333-MHz Pentium II processor. They can handle up to an 8.4-GB hard drive and come with Wake on LAN networking and other management tools.
The Consumer Division of PACKARD BELL NEC, INC. unveiled a new line of products tailored specifically for the sophisticated home user and the SOHO (small office/home office) market. The NEC Ready family of desktops spans a range of processors (a 300-MHz Celeron through a 450- MHz Pentium II), memory capacities (64 MB to 128 MB) and hard drives (6.4 GB to 13.6 GB). They also come with a Windows 98 software bundle, Internet and communications tools, multimedia features and productivity tools. Estimated street prices for the five NEC Ready products initially introduced run from $900 up to $2,400. Pricing for the first two NEC Ready Office PCs, which incorporate additional peripherals and business software tools, is expected to be $1,250 and $1,500, respectively.
TOSHIBA CORP.'s Irvine, California subsidiary, the top U.S. vendor of notebook computers, has released several more products. One, the Tecra 8000 family, is available from resellers in several standard configurations using 233-MHz or 266-MHz Pentium II processors, but it also can be custom-configured by TOSHIBA AMERICA INFORMATION SYSTEMS, INC. with display sizes of up to 14.1 inches and hard disk drive capacities of as much as 8.1 GB. New as well from Toshiba is the 4-pound, 1.1-inch-thick Portege 7000CT. Priced at $3,000, it features either a 233-MHz or a 266-MHz mobile Pentium II processor, a 12.1-inch TFT (thin-film-transistor) display and a 4.3-GB hard drive. The third addition is the value-oriented Satellite 4000 series, which starts at $2,000 for a notebook with a 233-MHz Pentium II processor, a 12.1-inch dual-scan display and a 4.1-GB hard drive.
The thinnest and lightest notebook computers built by SONY CORP. are in stores. The VAIO 505 SuperSlim is just an inch thick and weighs only three pounds, yet the two models feature a choice of a 200-MHz or a 266- MHz Pentium II processor with MMX technology, a 2.1-GB hard drive, 32 MB of memory and a 10.4-inch TFT screen. The base model sells for an estimated $2,000, while the other, which includes a Sony i.LINK port to connect with IEEE 1394-enabled devices, goes for $2,700 or so.
In the hope of returning its San Jose, California marketing subsidiary to profitability in the current fiscal year, ALPS ELECTRIC CO., LTD. is ending direct sales of printers through ALPS ELECTRIC (U.S.A.), INC. The company instead will focus on supplying these products on an original equipment manufacturer basis. The change will cost some jobs. The California operation also distributes other computer peripherals as well as automotive parts and electronic components.
The OKIPAGE line of LED (light-emitting diode) page printers from OKI ELECTRIC INDUSTRY CO., LTD.'s Mt. Laurel, New Jersey Okidata unit now includes a color model. The networkable OKIPAGE 8c outputs eight pages per minute in full color with a true resolution of 600 dots per inch. Shipments of the $3,500 or so desktop printer are set to start in late September. The OKIPAGE 8c will be released in Japan next year. It already is on sale in Europe. In time, worldwide sales are expected to hit 10,000 units a month.
Both NEC TECHNOLOGIES, INC. of Itasca, Illinois and EPSON AMERICA, INC. of Torrance, California have introduced color ink-jet printers for the SOHO market. The SuperScript 650c from NEC Technologies prints two ppm in color and six ppm in monochrome with a resolution of 1,200 dpi by 600 dpi. It is priced at $140 after a mail-in rebate. For its part, Epson America released three Stylus Color printers compatible with both Windows and Macintosh systems. The high-end Stylus Color 740 outputs 5 ppm in color and six ppm in monochrome at 1,440 dpi by 720 dpi. It lists for $280. The $200 midrange Stylus Color 640 offers the same resolution but prints 3.5 ppm in color and 5 ppm for black text. At the low end is the $150 Stylus Color 440, which delivers 2.5 ppm in color and 4 ppm in black and white at 720 dpi by 720 dpi.
An exchange rate of ¥145=$1.00 was used in this report.