What's Hot, What's Not: Techtalk column
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1999. First
published in Canadian Computer Wholesaler, April 1999
Last month, we looked at Intel?s Pentium III,
code-named Katmai, offering
a set of new multimedia instructions, along with faster CPU speeds,
to hit 600 MHz by the end of the year. It seems less revolutionary than
the name suggests, more like a Pentium II-MMX-Revisited. It?s worth
that two years after the addition of MMX to the Intel (and clone)
line, these new instructions have had minimal impact on the industry.
Some other technologies to watch for in 1999:
- Rambus memory. Most widely found, believe it or
not, in Nintendo 64
systems, the company has gotten funding from Intel, who are interested
in bringing its high-speed memory technology over to the PC platform.
Look for it to start appearing on high-end machines, as ever-increasing
processor speeds makes it more necessary to find a way to make memory
up. The good news is that Rambus memory starts at 600 MHz and goes up
there. The bad news it will require motherboard and chipset
can?t just plug it into a model designed for the current SDRAM
Because of this, adoption of the new standard will be
with 100 MHz SDRAM remaining the standard for the much larger mid-range
market?and somewhat faster 133 MHz SDRAM providing some improvements.
- AMD?s K7 CPU, appearing mid-year, following its
Some observers foresee the K7 outperforming Intel?s Pentium-III, giving
AMD the performance and technology lead for the first time since it
16 and 20 MHz 286s at a time when Intel?s product topped out at 12 MHz.
The K7 will break AMD?s reliance on the classic Socket 7 design.
Unable to use Intel?s Slot 1 design (as in Pentium II/III and Celeron
AMD has licensed Alpha technology from Compaq/Digital, resulting in
A?. These are mechanically identical to Slot 1, but electronically
a problem, as that will require motherboards specifically designed for
First reports of the company?s K6-3 are also looking
good. This CPU
is designed to get around a Socket 7 limitation?L2 cache memory on the
motherboard will only run at system bus speed?66 or 100 MHz, no matter
how fast the CPU runs. AMD is putting 256 kb of L2 cache right onto the
CPU, letting it run at full CPU speed.
(A similar tactic was used by Intel with its Celeron
line, turning that
model from into a contender?but these Celeron?s only have 128 kb of
AMD?s K6-2 proved to be the most popular CPU model in
1998 US retail
sales?the company looks to continue in a strong position in 1999.
- CD-RW looks increasingly like it will become the
media for this year. Despite the confusion at year-end, caused by the
government?s lack of clarity about taxing blank disks, look for
strong sales resulting in gradual price drops for drives, while the
media (particularly CD-R disks) remain low priced.
CD-RW?s growth will be helped by continued confusion about DVD.
DVD is growing as a home entertainment medium, but there?s not a lot of
interest in watching digital movies on PC, and there?s not a lot of
titles available for PC use.
And while there is huge potential for DVD-RAM, it
isn?t going to get
anywhere this year, while manufacturers continue to battle over
You can create your own standard DVD disks, using models like Pioneer?s
DVR-S101, which lists for a cool $16,995 (US). More affordably, you get
trapped with several incompatible models?Creative and others supporting
DVD-RAM, with recorders selling for about $800, and blank 5.2 GB (2.6
per side) disks coming in for about $60 each. HP, Sony, and Phillips,
are pushing a DVD+RW standard, with slightly higher recording capacity
(3 GB per side), while Pioneer offers yet another format, DVD-R/W with
4 GB per side.
With little PC-oriented pre-recorded content, and this
of recording standards, DVD will remain a frill in 1999. There will be
a market for PCs with both DVD-ROM and CD-RW drives pre-installed,
- USB will finally reach a kind of critical mass
acceptance this year.
technology makes so much sense, that it?s sad that it?s taken so long.
Most PCs sold since 1997 have included USB connectors, but until now
been little users could do with them. It?s taken two things to make USB
happen?the first was inclusion of the technology in Windows 98 (the
2.1 USB add-on doesn?t work well enough and isn?t widely supported).
ironically, what really gave USB a big boost was Apple?s iMac.
Sales of a million iMacs, all totally dependent on USB has really
kick-started the market?far more than the much larger number of
PCs which could also continue to use older technologies. The result has
been a larger number of hardware devices appearing?most of which ship
both Mac and PC drivers.
(And not a moment too soon! My new PC, for instance,
has no more free
slots?any expansion is going to have to come via a technology like
Apple?s blessing is not automatically the kiss of
The company?s new G3 towers include Firewire (aka IEEE1394) along with
USB. 1394 is a Plug and Play high speed bus, running at 400 Mbps
to USB?s 12 Mbps). This lets it work with multimedia devices such as
cameras, and with hard drives, and more.
On the PC-platform, 1394-equipped machines are offered
by Sony (notebooks
and desktops) and Compaq, and Adaptec has a 1394 adapter card
But Intel has dropped plans to include support for the standard in its
chipsets, while Microsoft is not supporting it in its current operating
systems. The result is that 1394 devices will be limited to high-end
and a very few PCs. Don?t expect mass market acceptance until 2001.