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Compaq Computer Corp., the world's largest maker of personal computers, is the last manufacturer to offer the most advanced machines to consumers.

Nearly a year after some competitors, Compaq said it would use Intel Corp.'s Pentium chip at the heart of its PCs for consumers.Until now, the company has relied on less powerful 486 micro-processors by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. to run the PCs it sells through retailers.

Analysts say the company missed out on some sales during the holiday season because its computers were not as advanced as competitors'. As PC demand by consumers began growing faster than among businesses in recent years, most manufacturers stopped making consumer-targeted models that had fewer features or less power.

"We think it was a good decision to wait until the majority of users were demanding Pentium," said Brian Temple, a Compaq spokes-man.

In its press release, Compaq did not refer to the Pentium chip by name, referring instead to "586-class chips." The company plans to use comparable chips by other manufacturers when they are ready. Last week, Compaq announced a broader relationship with NexGen Inc. to use its 586-class chip next year.

While Compaq is one of Intel's largest customers, the relationship of the two companies is often portrayed as strained. Several Compaq senior executives recently have criticized some Intel strategies, most seriously the development work it does for other PC makers.

Compaq will use Pentium chips that run at speeds of 75, 90 and 100 megahertz, though some of the faster models won't be available until later this month. The lowest is priced just below $1,800.

The company will continue to sell some 486-based machines in the Presario line.

As reported earlier, Hewlett-Packard Co., which surged into the Top 10 in U.S. PC sales last year strictly in the business and government markets, formally announced a consumer-targeted PC line Monday. Its models, which also rely on the Pentium chip, initially will only be available through Circuit City stores and start at about $1,700.