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Production glitch plays Grinch to Barbie, Hot Wheels computer buyers

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A manufacturing glitch is playing Grinch to thousands of kids hoping to get one of Mattel's flashy new Barbie or Hot Wheels computers for Christmas.

Faulty power supplies -- the part that distributes electricity to a computer's components -- forced Mattel licensee Patriot Computers Corp. to delay the shipment of about 40,000 computers, Patriot spokesman Michael Harrison said Friday.Patriot is replacing the bad parts, and hopes to have computers in customers' hands by early January. In the meantime, youngsters who don't get their PC in time for the holiday will instead get a free gift package that includes a Hot Wheels or Barbie toy, Mattel software and a gift certificate.

"We're trying to get as many computers to customers as we possibly can," Harrison said. "I'm faced with the same issue with my own son. Speaking as a parent I know it is a difficult thing to do, but I'd rather do this than take the chance it won't turn on at Christmas time."

Patriot, based in Toronto, builds and sells the computers for $599 under a license from Mattel that allows it to use the Barbie and Hot Wheels names and load the machines with 20 titles of Mattel game and educational software.

The glitch -- which has affected about half the Barbie and Hot Wheels PCs sold so far -- could create some more customer ill will for Mattel, which has suffered from recent publicity setbacks stemming from problems in its software operations and criticism over substandard toys donated to holiday charities.

"They may have some grumpy consumer problems. Investors should not worry about it," said Chris Byrne, editor of The Toy Report, an industry newsletter.

The problem could also drive some customers into the arms of Gateway Inc., which introduced its own kid-oriented computers based on the popular Rugrats and Blues Clues television shows, for the Christmas season, said Byrne. The Gateway computers are pricier, though, selling for about $900.

The Patriot PCs are sold through specially created Web sites, Barbiepc.com and Hotwheelspc.com.

The faulty components were discovered by Patriot before about half of the the Hot Wheels and Barbie PCs sold by Patriot were shipped.

The slowdown has affected only a few buyers, said Mattel spokesman Glenn Bozarth, who declined to say how many consumers would be affected.

The computers went on sale in October in an attempt by Mattel to take advantage of the hot market for low-cost computers.

The pink-and-silver Barbie PCs come with a Barbie digital camera, Barbie game software, such as "Detective Barbie," as well as educational titles. Hot Wheels PCs, blue and gold with flame-shaped decals, come with a steeling wheel-shaped joystick and software titles.

All have a 333-MHz Intel Celeron processor, a 3-gigabyte hard drive and 15-inch monitor.