PC USERS STILL IN THE MARKET: SEEKING THE PENTIULTIMATE BARGAIN

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Personal computer users are wary of Intel Corp.'s now infamous Pentium processor chips but not so cautious they won't buy computers with the chip, especially if they get a deal on price.

A cross section of personal computer users interviewed by Advertising Age this month showed both the technically minded consumer and everyday user were aware machines are equipped with central processing unit chips from a variety of manufacturers before the "Intel Inside" campaign from Dahlin Smith White, Salt Lake City, began in 1993.

"People who are aware of computers know there's more than one chip manufacturer out there, but marketing is a very powerful tool," said Brian Wagner of Jackson, Wis., a computer numerical control coordinator for a manufacturer. "Most people weren't even aware of the power of a computer chip until Intel started advertising."

Ironically, Intel's slow response to charges of errors in some math-intensive calculations by Pentium chips was highlighted because consumers knew the company from its ad campaign.

A majority of those interviewed by Ad Age are still working on less powerful, old technology-486 chips from Intel and others.

San Francisco real estate ap-praiser Dan Tobin last year chose a 486 over the newer Pentium. "I'm not sorry, looking back," Mr. Tobin said, adding his work doesn't require more chip muscle than his 486 provides.

Almost all respondents saw Intel's response to the math error as a big problem (AA, Jan. 2).

Rex Plunkett, an Anchorage-based electronics research consultant said, "More than anything else, Intel did not appear to stand behind its product."

Martha de Forest, an electrical and computer engineer from Boulder Creek, Calif., agreed: Intel "gave an engineering response. Engineers are used to dealing with approximations, but the general public is not. They were ignorant; not bad, but geekishly ignorant."

But bad public relations didn't beat out low price.

"It's a very, very small problem in the overall chip design. If the line is discontinued [and the price goes down], sure I'd buy some. I'm price sensitive," said Ward Rotter, president of a San Francisco-based money management firm.

Most consumers agreed the monetary investments they'd already made in software will drive them to upgrade their hardware.

"Very few organizations or individuals need a Pentium," said George Moor of Miami, a computer consultant. "It's going to be quite some time before software requires that you have a Pentium chip."

"The problem with a computer is you never know what you're going to use it for in the future," said Eric Lazarus, VP-sales with a Miamai-based textile manufacturer. "Software drives the hardware and not the reverse."

Advertising Age correspondents contributed to this report.

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