The Lenovo Group has launched a series of low-cost PCs Thursday, taking aim at the US$400 billion market for small and medium businesses now dominated by Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

The new line includes the C Series of notebook PCs running on Intel processors and the J Series of desktops running on either Intel or AMD chips. The company is positioning the new computers as a stylish "smart choice" compared to its classic "black tuxedo" ThinkPad line. The company is aiming at the budget-conscious with prices starting from J105 and J100 start at £260 and £280, respectively. Prices for the C100 start at £460. The products are available immediately.

Industry analysts say Lenovo faces a marketing challenge since these are the first self-branded products launched by the Chinese company since it acquired the PC division of IBM in 2005.

It will also borrow from the premium reputation and robust technology of its ThinkPad line, discounted for smaller budgets.

"This is a more aggressive price point than we've used in the past," said Bob Galush, vice president of marketing for the company's desktop business unit, based in Raleigh, North Carolina. "These are less robust; you don't get the roll bar and the air bag you get with the ThinkPad line. But some customers are willing to pay for that and some are not. This gives them the choice."

In fact, this is the second recent bargain product offered by Lenovo. Adding to its stable of enterprise level M-series and A-series ThinkCentre desktops, it released the E-series for small business owners in October 2005. Now the J-series extends that family to shed more robustness and optimise the price.

Lenovo actually has a larger share of the worldwide enterprise business market - 15 percent - but SMB is growing much faster, he said. To tap into that market, Lenovo is marketing the 3000 series as a low-maintenance, low-price option, compared to the rock-solid, premium reputation of the ThinkPad.

The difference stands out in the different advertising tag lines: the ThinkPad is sold as "carried by those who carry companies," while the 3000 series is targeted at customers who want to "make history, not backups."

From the customer's point of view, the 3000 line will be self-reliant, with built-in tools that can reduce IT expenses for cost-sensitive small businesses, according to Lenovo. Faced with a catastrophic software failure from a malicious virus, a user can hit a one-button system-recovery feature that will diagnose the damage, get help and eventually recover operations.

The C100 notebook runs on the user's choice of Intel Pentium M or Celeron M processor, with certain models offering the Centrino mobile platform. Either way, the 6.2-pound (2.8 kilograms) computer offers 802.11 wireless LAN, Bluetooth and Ethernet connectivity, a multicard reader for digital pictures, and four USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports packed into a 1.3-inch thick package.

The J100 and J105 desktop PCs offer serial ATA drive support, six USB 2.0 ports, and front-side audio. The difference is that the J100 runs on either the Intel Celeron D or Pentium 4 processor, while the J105 uses an AMD Sempron or Athlon chip. Prices start at $349 for a J105 outfitted with Windows XP Home and the low-end Sempron chip.

Finally, Lenovo executives shared their road map for future releases of laptops in the 3000 series. Today's C100 offers a 15-inch regular-format display screen. By March 2006, the N100 will have a choice of 14.1- and 15.4-inch wide screens, and by the second quarter of 2006, the V100 will have a 12-inch wide screen.

Lenovo will attempt to shoulder aside those companies with its "Lenovo 3000" product family, featuring a $349 desktop PC and a $599 laptop.