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High-Tech Times Article 004

Interesting Technology Data

As my wife and I sat down last week to make up our Christmas shopping list, I was truly amazed at the numbers of new technologies that have popped up over the past year that even my four-year-old granddaughter can use.  I've been involved with computers in one way or another since 1959, and now spend at least 100 hours each month reading the 453 trade publications I receive, tracking 22 different technology areas for my Clients.  As most of you don't have this much time (or at least aren't crazy enough), let me share with you some of the most interesting factors in technology that I see on the horizon.


Let's first take a quick look at Intel's latest processor: the Pentium II.  Currently available in 233-, 266-, and 300-MHz clock speeds, all Pentium IIs come with 32 KB of on-board (integrated) cache and 512 KB of external Level-2 cache.  You can  think of this chip as a Pentium Pro with MMX (Multimedia Extensions) technology but without an internal Level-2 cache.  MMX adds 57 programming instructions designed to process multimedia video, audio, and graphics data.  But unless your specific software uses these MMX instructions, you may be paying more for processing power you can't use.  Programs like Adobe PhotoShop, Macromedia Director, and a few other high-end applications currently use MMX, but as Intel plans to keep these instruction sets in all of their new CPUs, my guess is that most software vendors will add this functionality in their next major release.


One of the most frequently asked questions I get is "What is Intel planning for next year?"  Well, Intel refuses to comment on unannounced chips, but here's some info provided from one of my favorite industry newsletters, Microprocessor Report.  The Intel chip code-named Deschutes is expected to appear in early 1998, is a low-voltage cousin of the Pentium II, and should debut at 300- to 333-MHz.  The Katmai chip will appear by mid-1998 with what I call "MMX-2" technology consisting of more 32-bit graphic instructions, and even faster clock-speeds.


The Willamette processor is expected in late 1998, and reportedly incorporates an enhanced Pentium Pro core that will outperform the Pentium II by close to 50 percent.  Last, but certainly not least, the Merced chip will usher in the next Intel millennium in mid- to late-1999 with the "IA-64 architecture," which is a 64-bit instruction set developed jointly by Intel and Hewlett Packard.


In case you blinked, those of you who are running Windows 95 or NT, or any Macintosh operating system since 6.0, are now running 32-bit instructions.  If you're still back in the DOS/Windows 3.X genre, you're limping along with only 16-bit instructions.  The math on these operating systems may not be easy to describe, but just remember that 32-bit operations are four times faster than are 16-bit, and 64-bit is, again, four times faster than 32-bit.  These speeds have little to do with your processor (as long as it will handle them, of course), but are rather how efficiently your programs will run.


An interesting piece of fairly recent news is that Intel has purchased the manufacturing rights to the Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) Alpha chip.  The DEC Alpha has been far and away the fastest processor I've ever worked with, and zooms along with 64-bit data and address busses, compared to the Pentium II's 32-bit busses.  This almost surely means that Microsoft will put lots more effort into developing a 64-bit operating system (probably NT 6.0), now that there are two industry-standard processors that can use it.  Currently, only UNIX users are capable of reaping full 64-bit operating system power, along with mainframe O/S's.


Beyond processor type, you face other decisions when buying a computer.  One common question is whether to purchase a multiprocessor system.  To gain any significant advantage from such a computer, you need to either run multiple (simultaneously active) programs, or run a "multi-threaded" program.  Multi-threading is complicated to explain, but you can think of it as leveling the average load across multiple CPUs.  One of the newest multi-threaded programs is Autodesk's new 3D Studio Max Release 2.  Max2 can be searching the drawing database, updating the video display, performing rendering calculations, and doing many other simultaneous operations, each of which can be "threaded," or assigned, to two or more CPUs under Windows NT 4.0.  If you're doing this kind of work, then the extra few hundred dollars you will pay for a dual-processor-capable motherboard is probably worth the investment.


Let's move on to computing devices that you will be sticking into your aloha shirt pocket within the next 18-24 months.  Cellular telephones, pocket pagers, and notebook computers will be passť to many of you by the year 2000.  Rather than talking through phones, you will be talking to your phone, issuing voice commands such as "Call my wife" or "Read my e-mail."  Microsoft recently invested $45 million in a Belgian speech-recognition company, with the specific intent to make voice-control capabilities standard fare in portable machines and desktop computers.


Today's palmtop computers are moving to pen-based handwriting-recognition features, instead of the awkward itsy-bitsy keyboards that can't be used by many of us.  Similarly, Microsoft wants to replace pen-based technologies with speech recognition.  And can computers that can read your mind be far behind...?


Most of you remember Dick Tracy's two-way wristwatch radio.  MicroDisplay Corp. in San Pablo, Calif. is developing an even smaller version of that wrist display, and by this time next year, those of you who will brave the cutting-edge of technology will be able to peer into a tiny telescopic lens built into Motorola phones to read a full page of your e-mail.  And many manufacturing firms are already investing in backpack-type portable computers that are both voice-controlled, and offer a two-inch-square visor-mounted virtual video screen that looks just your 17-inch VGA monitor hung out in space.  Operators can use these systems to perform maintenance without hauling around a few hundred pounds of manuals.


If you would like to see a local example of what technology is doing for advertising, contact Fernando Diaz at 6D (533-1919) and ask him to show you how he created a "virtual world" that allows potential customers to view their products and services in ways you would never even imagine.  At the Computer Expo last month, I used a "space-ball" to control my motions in six dimensions while exploring a virtual space-station that showcased over 20 different companies, local and international, that not only kept my attention, but also allowed me to get lots of information, too.


Although some of these technologies may seem applicable only to the computer nuts among us, even your family automobile may be acquiring a technology backseat driver.  Intel plans to put PCs in cars starting in early 1999, but these computer systems won't be your standard notebooks at all.  Instead, they may read e-mail aloud to drivers, tell you your location, warn you of traffic jams and suggest alternate routes, search the Internet for specific news topics, and even entertain your passengers with games.


"The driver will be looking at a picture-type interface when the car is stopped," according to Ganesh Moorthy, GM of Intel's Appliance and Computing Division in Chandler, Ariz., "and it will switch to voice-based when the car is in motion."  Intel's PC will be unobtrusively located in the dashboard, with a 6-inch color LCD screen, and, within certain geographical areas, will also be configured to synchronize with local cellular phone protocols.  Potential add-ons include a navigational GPS system that will tell you the fastest way to get to your destination, and a Web-bot that enjoys reading you your favorite book from the Web in a voice of your choice.


In short, we live in a wonderful age where technology is doubling every 18 months, and where anything you purchase today will be obsolete before you even get it home. (Just kidding!)  I hope this article has provided you with some useful ideas that can keep you a bit more current.


If you have topics that you would like to see discussed in High Tech Times, please feel free to call me at (808) 521-2259, or you can e-mail me at   See you next year. 


Mele Kalikimaka and Hauoli Makahiki Hou!!