Walmart, Best Buy in Sub-$300 Laptop Price War

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Walmart and Best Buy appear to have kicked off a price war in time for the back-to-school shopping season, with both retailers offering Compaq laptops with 15.6-inch screens for under US$300.

Walmart is selling Hewlett-Packard's Compaq Presario CQ62-219WM for $298 through its online store. Best Buy is selling a Compaq Presario CQ60-615DX for $299 on its website.

The laptops have similar specifications. Both come with a single-core Intel Celeron 900 processor running at 2.2GHz and include 2GB of DDR2 memory. They also have 250GB hard drives, wired and 802.11 b/g/ wireless networking capabilities, DVD burners and Intel's 4500M integrated graphics.

The systems come with Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit OS and include other applications often referred to as bloatware. One notable feature absent from the laptops is a webcam.

Best Buy is also selling a $299 Toshiba Satellite C655-S5049 laptop on its website. That laptop also has a 15.6-inch screen and Celeron 900 processor, but includes 2GB of the faster DDR3 memory type.

The price war is similar to one that broke out before last year's back-to-school season, said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at The NPD Group. That battle ignited last July when Best Buy offered an Acer laptop for $299, and Walmart undercut the price by $1 with a Compaq machine.

"They are selling them because they drive traffic into the stores, provide great value to their customers [and] help each other compete against one another," Baker said.

The stores will keep at it for as long as PC makers supply them with products that allow them to hit those price points, Baker said. PC makers may have tweaked configurations, by reducing the amount of memory or hard drive capacity, for example, to let the stores sell the machines for less.

But reviewers seem to be content with the products. On the Best Buy website, 463 reviewers gave the Compaq laptop an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. On the Walmart site, 15 reviewers gave its $298 laptop close to a 5 star rating.

One Walmart reviewer said the laptop is good for basic productivity and Internet applications, but not for more demanding tasks.

"With an Intel Celeron 900 processor and 2GB of RAM, don't expect to be zipping through video editing apps, especially considering it is a single-core CPU," wrote one reviewer under the name noraaregnilc.

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