WARRING American PC makers Compaq and Packard Bell are taking their battle for supremacy into the local small office/ home office (SOHO) market with the launch of multimedia computers capable of doing just about everything but make coffee. Compaq last week rolled out six new models of its popular Presario PC including the firm's first Pentium-based systems aimed specifically at the consumer market. Packard Bell, meanwhile, is this week introducing a Pentium-based multimedia PC called My Secretary which, similar to the new Presarios, doubles as an answering machine and a fax machine. The two companies have in the past few weeks been having it out in the United States over accusations of questionable business practices including the use of parts from returned computers to manufacture new machines. In last week's launch, Compaq brought out one PC powered by a 486DX2 66-megahertz microprocessor, two with 486DX4 90-MHz chips, two with Pentium 75-MHz chips and one with a Pentium 90-MHz processor. The Pentium-powered machines fall into what Compaq calls its 586-class because it is not tied into an Intel-only processor deal. All the machines come with a standard of eight megabytes of RAM and have hard disks ranging from 420 MB to 725 MB. They all also come standard with quad-speed CD-ROM drives. Besides offering multimedia capabilities, the machines can double as telephone and fax centres, features that an increasing number of PC makers are integrating into their systems as they target the SOHO market. Packard Bell is targeting the same market with its My Secretary PCs which come with Intel Pentium 75-, 90-and 100-MHz processors. But its systems go a step or two further than the new Compaq's in terms of acting as a telephone and fax centre. Instead of simply acting as an answering machine, the system has built-in technology that enables it to work as an answering service with more than 10 voice-mail boxes for up to 10 individuals, each with their own identification numbers and passwords. Messages in these mailboxes can be retrieved by remote users from any touch-tone phone. It even offers a music-on-hold feature. The My Secretary's fax service, too, is quite impressive. In addition to being able to receive incoming faxes, it uses FaxWorks software to serve as a fax-on-demand centre. This function allows users to store up to 10 faxes that can be accessed by remote users with the help of a voice-assist service. Up to 1,000 documents can be stored for fax-on-demand access without the voice-assist feature. Perhaps most interesting of all is that these features are built into the one add-on card together with the My Secretary's multimedia capabilities. Dubbed Rocky, the card incorporates a 14.4 fax/ modem with a '3-D' sound system that is the first PC implementation of sound technology marketed by US firm NuReality and in use in cinemas around the world. 'Our objective is to offer sound and telephony on the same card,' Packard Bell marketing manager Gladys Ngai said. Compaq's plus points include one of the best software bundling deals around. The new Presarios come with more than five software titles that include financial management, family edutainment, reference, productivity, presentation, and home management applications. Games have not been forgotten, either. All the new PCs are priced competitively. The Presario 500 series, the new CDS 524, which features an integrated monitor with built-in stereo speakers and a full-duplex speaker phone costs $15,000. The CDS 742 and CDS 772 - the new entrants in the Presario 700 series of slimline desktops - cost $14,000 and $17,000 respectively. This price does not, however, include a monitor. A Compaq multimedia monitor can be added for a further $3,000. In the Presario 900 series - which come in a minitower package - the three new models, the CDS 944, 972 and 982 cost between $15,000 and $20,000. Here, too, a monitor is not included in the price. Packard Bell, in the meantime, had placed its entry-level My Secretary at less than $20,000, a company spokesman said, adding that the price included a multimedia monitor with stereo speakers and a full-duplex, hands-free phone system. Packard Bell's new systems also feature quad-speed CD-ROM drives.