Pc Makers Think Beyond The Box

To replace falling hardware profits, they're heading off in surprising directions

Hardly a week goes by that some wild-eyed startup doesn't announce a scheme to give away personal computers--as if the PC were some throwaway rather than the machine that ushered in the Information Age. On Mar. 31, following in the footsteps of Free-PC, NuAuction, and DirectWeb, New York-based Gobi said it would hand out free PCs to consumers who sign up for three years of Internet service. Meanwhile, emachines Inc. keeps cranking out PCs priced as low as $399, and startup Microworkz Computer Corp. says it will soon sell them for $299. "Where is this all going?" asks Brett B. Faulk, director of retail product marketing at Compaq Computer Corp. "It's anybody's guess. It's hard to draw rational conclusions from irrational pricing."

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