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Compaq Computer Corp., the reigning leader in PCs, today begins an estimated $15 million to $20 million yearend home PC campaign-enough, perhaps, for third place in spending behind IBM Corp. and Intel Corp.

Intel intends to spend $40 million to push Pentium chips. And some in the Compaq camp figure IBM will outspend Compaq with the new Aptiva line being introduced today.

IBM has "to spend a lot of money to create a lot of impressions ... to start bailing the water out of a sinking ship," said Michael Baldwin, senior VP at Compaq shop Ammirati & Puris/Lintas, New York.

Such is the camaraderie in the computer industry.

Mr. Baldwin insists Compaq, the No. 1 PC seller in the first half of '94, needn't be the top spender.

While ailing IBM must build the Aptiva brand from scratch and Intel is laboring to shift the world to a more powerful chip, he said, Compaq is entering the holiday sales period with strong momentum.

"If you don't have momentum in this business, it's hard to attain leadership," Mr. Baldwin said. "No amount of money is going to give IBM, at least in this season, the type of momentum that Compaq has achieved."

With the fall campaign for a revamped version of its Presario line, Compaq is continuing the elegant, emotion-grabbing creative approach it started when it introduced the home PC last year.

The home campaign consists of four 30-second TV spots and five magazine spreads. TV starts tonight on ABC's "Monday Night Football" and will run on a variety of prime-time, sports and news programs on network and cable.

Print will appear in more than two dozen magazines including The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Family Fun and Wired.

Compaq thinks of its new Presarios as the "ultimate home appliance."

But Compaq and Ammirati, which drove home the Ultimate Driving Machine for BMW, steer clear of "appliance" in ads, instead emphasizing benefits and pleasure derived from the machine.

"We really want to focus on what the benefits are, what you do with this thing," said Mark Rosen, Compaq's director of advertising.

Mr. Rosen compared Compaq's position as a marketer of innovative, quality and desirable products to that of Sony Corp. "We do like the way Sony has managed its brand."

Like Sony, Compaq's consumer ads are clear of technical mumbo jumbo. Presario ads show how people use some of the product's nifty new multimedia features.

In the spot judged most "likable" in testing, a restaurateur uses her Presario as a computer, speaker phone and TV.

In another, a little girl asks dad to "do" a CD-ROM version of a book, showing that computer literacy may come before literacy.

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