AST Unveils Revamped Computer Models : Technology: Troubled firm hopes to boost sales. Plan targets low-budget and high-end markets.


Struggling to halt a lengthy financial slide, AST Research Inc. on Monday introduced revamped versions of two of its key computer models as part of what company officials call a value-conscious, "early to market" strategy.

Within the past week, the Irvine-based company has begun shipping updated models of its Bravo and Premmia desktop computers, brand names that have accounted for roughly 45% of the computers AST has sold in recent years, analysts said.

The unveilings represent a concerted effort by AST to be the first to market with products that have the latest technological wrinkles. AST was once known as a nimble manufacturer, but in recent years the company has been hampered by product delays and marketing mistakes.

Company officials on Monday were quick to say that they do not expect these products--which have been in development for months--to completely turn around a prolonged sales and market share tumble. But they acknowledge that there is pressure on these new PCs to succeed.

"We are looking at every product that we bring to market as a contributor to turning the company around," said Dennis Cox, 46, head of AST's consumer sales team in the United States.

The new products are aimed at expanding AST's presence in the computer market by not only competing for cost-conscious customers but also attacking the high-end business market.

In the entry-level market, AST has begun assembling its low-cost Bravo systems with a new processor from Cyrix Corp. that by some measures outperforms Intel's popular Pentium processors, but costs up to $60 less per machine.

At the other end of the spectrum, AST is upgrading its top-of-the-line Premmia machines in an effort to crack into the corporate workstation market, a high-priced realm of powerful computers.

This market has long been dominated by Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics and other companies that are manufacture high-powered computers that can cost well over $20,000 apiece.

AST said it will undercut its competitors by as much as 40%, with prices ranging up to $9,584.

Industry analysts gave these new products high marks--but hastened to add that AST has many problems.

The company reported a loss of nearly $100 million last year and has acknowledged that its performance in the current quarter will be significantly worse than in the same quarter a year ago, when it posted a loss of $40 million.

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