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Industry Standard

How much should you pay for a free PC?

April 14, 1999
Web posted at: 1:39 p.m. EDT (1739 GMT)

by Jason K. Krause

(IDG) -- Free has become a popular price point for personal computer vendors. A growing group of companies offers free or cheap computers with Net access – but there's a catch. "The 'free' part is just a marketing spin," admits Dennis Cline, CEO of free-PC vendor DirectWeb in Mt. Laurel, N.J. Most of these companies have their hopes on e-commerce, although they haven't yet figured out how to generate revenue from cheap PCs. Look for hidden ploys: there's no such thing as a free lunch, or a free computer.

DirectWeb No cost for the PC, if you pay an ISP fee. DirectWeb charges between $19.99 and $49.99 a month for ISP access. DirectWeb wants to use the PCs to generate e-commerce revenue and keep customers tied to the company's front page. It has set aside hard-drive space for rich-media ad content.
Free PC A free PC with Internet access by ISP NetZero. You get a fast machine and Internet access for free, as long as you endure intrusive advertising and provide personal data.
Gateway Free Internet access with a $1,000 PC. "Free" covers the first 150 hours per month. After that, it's $1.50 an hour.
Gobi Gobi charges $25.99 a month for a PC and Internet access, and upgrades the PC after three years. Wants to generate e-commerce revenue, but has no model yet. Look out for hidden e-commerce ploys.
Microworkz Not quite free, but outrageously cheap: one year of free Internet access with a $299 machine. The company admits it can't make a profit at this price point, so watch out for the old bait-and-switch.
NuAuction Will give away 12,000 PCs at random. This one's a pure sales gimmick. According to the company, the odds of winning are 3,000 to 1.
One Stop Free iMac, as long as you buy $100 of merchandise a month. Represents a $3,600 outlay for a computer valued at $999.
PC Free $39.99 per month for a PC and Net access. Every computer's homepage will be locked on Compaq's AltaVista portal site and a permanent desktop icon will link directly to Compaq's online mall.

Can you afford a $50 PC?
March 17, 1999
Free PCs, but not a free lunch
February 10, 1999
Computer giveaway lures 500,000 people
February 15, 1999

PC giveaway aims to deliver ad audience
Microsoft site to give away free PCs to mortgage customers
PC giveaway lures 500,000 applicants
Can you afford a $50 PC?
(PC World)
Two more 'free' PC firms pin hopes on e-commerce
(PC World)

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Compaq Computer Corp.

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