Too Many Choices? You're not alone!
by Alan Zisman (c)
published in Canadian Computer Wholesaler, December 1998
Sigh. Life used to be so simple.
Just a couple of years ago, motherboards, for example,
were a one size
fits all sort of thing. Intel?s Socket 7 design could
that company?s Pentium processors, their MMX successor, and clones from
AMD, Cyrix, and others. PCI slots for high-end controllers, and ISA
for everything else.
Sound cards were either made by Creative Labs, or
tried to be as compatible
as possible with that company?s Sound Blaster standard.
As a result, with a little mix and match, it was easy
to make a PC.
Slap a brand name on the front, and go into business. More mixing and
and you?d have an entire product line.
I guess it was just too easy.
Let?s start with CPUs.
Intel migrated its product line over to a new,
1. Pentium IIs and low-end Celerons from the company used motherboards
with that design, while the competition?s products continued to work
Socket 7 designs. But even that was too simple. AMD has announced that
its next generation, K7 CPUs will, like Pentium IIs, be designed on a
and will fit in a slot that will be ?mechanically identical? to Slot 1.
Nice weasel words. Mechanically identical means the
slot will look just
like Intel?s version. But AMD?s socket isn?t electronically
so AMD CPUs will fit in Intel sockets and vice versa?they just won?t
This is bound to confuse users, and requires motherboard manufacturers
to design and stock yet another line of incompatible motherboards.
Not to be left out, Intel has switched strategies for
Celeron line yet again. Initially, Celeron CPUs were compatible with
II-style Slot 1 designs, an Intel strategy to wean the market from the
older Socket 7 designs favored by the cloners. Recently, however,
Intel announced a new line of socketed Celeron models, a design change
made possible by the integration of the L2 cache in latest generation
Celerons. But while the 370 pin socket resembles the classic Socket 7
it also won?t be compatible.
Initially, Intel will continue to sell the single-edge
1 Celerons alongside the PPGA (plastic pin grid array) socketed model,
but it will be phasing out sales of the Slot 1 model, forcing
manufacturers to support yet another product line, and making it more
for consumers to upgrade a Celeron to a higher-end P-II.
Processor and motherboard designs aren?t the only
place where standards
Do you want a PCI or AGP graphics card? AGP1 or AGP2?
Just as flat panel
display prices are approaching the point where they might become an
we start to get analog models that will work with a standard video
and not one, but two competing standards for digital connections,
clarity by eliminating the digital to analog to digital conversions
required?but at the cost of only working with a limited range of video
If all this didn?t make video confusing enough,
and manufacturers have to try and make their way through a maze of
and incompatible 3D models. Primarily of interest to game players,
at least, holds out the possibility of becoming less of an issue, as
and more games are designed with Microsoft?s Direct 3D in mind. By
for Direct 3D (a part of the Direct X group of programming
developers do not have to write code for 3D adapters they wish to
long as the adapter has a Direct 3D driver, any Direct 3D game or
will be playable.
Similarly, as game developers finally abandon DOS,
old-style Sound Blaster
compatibility has become less and less important.
As a result, the new generation of audio adapters have
able to move away from the old ISA bus. New products are all using the
PCI bus, resulting in fewer hardware configuration nightmares. At the
time, we again are seeing several competing wannabe
with Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live models opposing a variety of
featuring Aureal?s A3D chipsets. Aureal?s recent A3D 2.0 specification
and Vortex 2 sound processor up the ante for their product line, while
Creative is offering its new EAX drivers for all its PCI models.
As with the 3D video-wars, much of this conflict will
be invisible to
the end-user, as long as they stick to running Direct X games. But you
can bet that the manufacturers will be heavily promoting their
products. And many game developers will still be stuck in the middle,
products that only run on some, but not all hardware.
Then again, if the USB products finally take off, we
may see USB speakers
making sound cards of any sort obsolete?at least for much of the mass
The hard core gamers will, I predict, prefer the 4 or 5 speaker 3D
that they can only get with one of this new generation of PCI sound
Of course, USB products have not yet fulfilled their
in part because they too often simply aren?t working as promised.
up to 127 devices? Not a chance. Hot swap peripherals? Maybe. A couple
of devices, chained together may work. But then again, they may
Expect better success with Windows 98 than with Win95B with USB
but even with Windows 98, problems reportedly continue.
Even the operating system market is fragmenting,
between Windows 95
(still), Windows 98, and NT Workstation growing in popularity among
and even educational customers. And don?t forget Linux. Somebody is
to find a profitable niche market offering pre-installed Linux
this market may grow rapidly. And of course, each of these operating
supports a different set of hardware standards.
Ironically, the Mac, which would appear to be the most
them all has increasingly supported majority PC standards?adopting the
PCI bus, IDE drives, and with the iMac, USB.
Eventually, we may see some stability once again, as
sound and 3D video
and other standards emerge victorious.
Then again, this fragmentation may continue for quite
a while, as unique
markets continue to solidify for low-end PCs, mid-range home machines,
and business offerings. It?s certainly been Intel?s intentions to offer
completely different CPU and motherboard models for each of these
Manufacturers, distributors, vendors, and customers
(to say nothing
of tech support staff) may find themselves waxing nostalgic for the
when it would seem like one size of hardware and software (with faster
or slower CPUs) fit all.