Laptops, PCs At The Center Of Wal-Mart Back to School Blitz

Starting this weekend, Wal-Mart plans to change where you'll shop for your next computer, while possibly providing a needed salesboost to OEMs whose profits have fallen due to weaker sales. For most companies, such statements would smack of hubris, but Wal-Mart's size and recession-resistant business model lend credence to the idea that the store could spark an uptick in consumer demand. As the first step in that process, beginning Sunday, Wal-Mart will offer a Compaq Presario notebook for $298.

Said noteboook will offer a 15.6" screen (1366x768), a single-core Sempron SI-42 (clocked at 2.1GHz), 3GB of RAM, a 160GB 5400RPM HDD, and support for wired and wireless networking (802.11b/g). Video is provided by a GeForce 8200M, and the system will ship with Vista Home Basic. Three USB ports, one VGA-out port, and an integrated CD/DVD drive round things out. "We think that that's a screaming value," Wal-Mart's senior vice president of home entertainment, Gary Severson told Reuters. "You're going to see us focus dramatically not only on price, but the value for that price."

Given the rock-bottom price point, Severson has a point. At just $300, this new HP would be going head-to-head with netbooks that are utterly incapable of matching the performance of even a budget OoOE processor. OoOE stands for Out of Order Execution; all of the processors from AMD and Intel since Intel introduced the Pentium Pro back in 1995 except for Atom have been OoOE designs. Atom is an in-order CPU; Intel swapped the tremendous performance boost of an OoOE processor for the low-power, small size, and simplicity of an in-order part. Relative to the other systems in its weight class, the new Presario should do quite well.

Wal-Mart's aggressive moves into computer retailing aren't limited to offering a single, well-priced laptop. The retail giant now offers certain Dell Inspiron models in various colors, is introducing new peripherals to match the new systems, and plans to cut prices on other notebooks as well. In August, Wal-Mart plans to launch a new mini notebook from HP and a beefed up Dell laptop with a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM. The company has also rennovated the PC area of 1200 stores. That's a full third of Wal-Mart's nationwide, and it speaks to the company's longer-term intention to be a big player in the retail market.