Dell, the world’s biggest personal computer maker, on Wednesday announced the first aqcuisition of a PC rival in its 22-year history, with a deal to buy Alienware, a maker of souped-up computer systems for gaming enthusiasts and other power users.

Alienware, known as a provider of high-performance, “bleeding-edge” computer systems, will operate as an independent unit within Dell, retaining separate development, marketing and customer service operations.

Van Baker, an analyst at Gartner, said the move was uncharacteristic of Dell, which has built its business by selling mass-market PCs directly to customers over the telephone and internet.

“This is a bit of a different spin from them,” said Mr Baker. “They are not buying volume, but what it does give them is a very profitable PC line. We’re talking $3,500 to $4,000 PCs in a segment of the market that is always willing to pay top dollar for the best possible performance.”

Kevin Rollins, Dell’s chief executive, has acknowledged that the company needed to be “bolder” in order to regain investor confidence after it missed sales targets in two successive quarters last year – a slip it blamed in part on an overly aggressive shift towards lower-end PCs.

Dell said on Wednesday that the acquisition would “satisfy the growing number of consumers and businesses seeking the highest-performance PC products”.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Alienware had sales last year of $170m.

Dell said Alienware, which has also based its business on a direct sales model, would continue to use its own manufacturing facilities, but would be able to take advantage of the purchasing power of its new parent.

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