|Before you hit the checkout
line with your new computer system, check out our annual article about
computing trends and expectations. It might help you make smarter purchases.
Welcome to my ninth Computers
in Libraries Buyer's Guide review of the Wintel marketplace. And welcome
to a rapidly changing computing space. Today we travel an evolutionary
path leading away from personal computers and operating systems that mainly
support applications that generate printed pages, and we head toward a
future filled with the smart tools needed to create a high-bandwidth, Net-centric,
media-rich environment. At the end of the path, in a global computing space
governed by Moore's Law, Metcalfe's Law, and the Bandwidth Scaling Law,
location means nothing, and time means everything. Microsoft knows it,
and so does Intel.
Intel is so sure it knows
what's coming next that it built the Pentium 4 to a different set of design
outcomes than earlier versions. The Pentium 4s won't perform any better
than the equally fast Pentium IIIs or Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD)
Athlons on regular Microsoft Office productivity tasks, but they will perform
substantially better when building and manipulating high-end multimedia
and Internet applications. "If you look at all aspects of the design—high
speeds, deep pipeline, the SSE2 instruction set, the relatively small data
cache, lots of bus bandwidth—it all points to high-performance media processing,"
according to Kevin Krewell, senior analyst with MicroDesign Resources,
in "P4: Whole New Ball of Silicon," by Cade Metz, ZDNet PC Magazine,
December 28, 2000 at http://www.zdnet.com/pcmag/stories/reviews/0,6755,2668398,00.html.
Intel underscored this change
in design direction when it also announced the demise of the Pentium III
on the desktop by the end of 2001. This was a dramatic departure from past
practice where the introduction of a new processor meant only that the
older one would become less expensive while remaining readily available
for some time.
Meanwhile, Microsoft was
announcing, defining, and redefining its .NET initiative: "The best way
to define .NET is to think about what .NET is going to do. Microsoft believes
a silent shift to distributed computing is happening. Over the last couple
of years, people have been laying fat pipes to the point where bandwidth
is a lot less limited than it has been in the past. Combined with the Moore's
Law effect where the processing power doubles every eighteen months and
the prices are halved, you now have the option to do really distributed
computing for the first time: because bandwidth is less expensive, you
can do the processing wherever it is most optimal.... So .NET is aimed
at accelerating this next generation of distributed computing." This explanation
comes from "The Simplest Way to Define .NET" by Sanjay Parthasarathy, vice
president of platform strategy, Microsoft Corp., December 21, 2000 at http://www.microsoft.com/net/defining.asp.
"End users interact with
their software through .NET experiences, which deliver a new type of interaction—a
dramatically more personal, integrated experience derived from connected
XML Web services, and delivered through the new breed of smart devices."
You see the word "smart" everywhere in the Microsoft .NET literature, and
you see the present tense used as though it were already here. Smart devices
will know about your .NET identity, profile, and data. They will be responsive
to bandwidth constraints and network services, and they will present applications
and data optimized for hardware form factor. Smart devices also will use
XML (eXtensible Markup Language), SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol,
which provides a way for applications to communicate with each other independent
of platform), and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration—a
Web-based distributed directory). For more about the .NET initiative, see
".NET Q&A: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions" at http://www.microsoft.com/net/qa.asp#001.
For more definitions, see the Webopedia at http://www.webopedia.com.
In more concrete news, Microsoft
has released the beta version of the Windows XP (XP for "experience") operating
system that will ease Internet connection setup; automate Net-based operating
system updates; "heal" itself after breakdowns; and improve the creation,
manipulation, and presentation of video, sound, and images in the Windows
environment. In addition, it should be more reliable than Windows 95/98
because it's built on NT/2000 technology. Eventually XP will power the
.NET experience on the desktop. The final release version of Windows XP
is scheduled for October 25, 2001. To keep informed, visitthe XP home page
Intel's IA-32 Space
|Intel underscored this
change in design direction when it also announced the demise of the Pentium
III on the desktop by the end of 2001.
Here in real time, today's
computer buyer has to know where on the evolutionary path he or she is,
where the organization is, and where everybody is going in pursuit of the
organization's mission. Knowing this will almost immediately define the
kind of computer to specify for the short and longer term. Fortunately
there's a simple test that makes it easy: Ask yourself if anyone has made,
is experimenting with, or is talking about doing streaming video for whatever
reason to advance the organization's mission. If so, your organization
is making, or is aboutto make, the transition to a high-bandwidth, Net-centric,
media-rich environment, which means you'll require some heavy-duty computing
power. On the other hand, if you only see a need to run Microsoft Office
while also being connected to the Net for relatively low-bandwidth tasks,
nearly any currently available PC will do.
The Intel Architecture 32-bit
(IA-32) PC marketplace currently breaks down quite nicely into three segments:
1) budget or value PCs built around the Intel Celeronand AMD Duron CPUs
(less than $1,000),2) mainstream systems built around the Intel Pentium
III and AMD Athlon ($1,000 to $1,500), and 3) the performance market built
around the Pentium 4 and the higher-speed Athlons (over $1,500). Here's
what the manufacturers have to say about the purpose and markets of the
five processors we are most likely to encounter in the IA-32 computing
space in the foreseeable future.
For the most up-to-date information
on these and other processors, including plans for new product introductions,
visit AMD's home page at http://www.amd.com
and Intel's home page at http://www.intel.com.
Intel Celeron from "Intel
Celeron Processor Tech Info" at http://www.intel.com/home/celeron/tech-info.htm:
"The Intel Celeron processor is designed for basic PC desktops and notebooks,
and is binary compatible with previous generation Intel architecture processors.
TheIntel Celeron processor offers the dependability you expect from Intel
at an exceptional value. Systems based on Intel Celeron processors also
include the latest features to simplify system management and lower the
cost of ownership for home environments."
AMD Duron from "AMD
Duron Processor Overview" at http://www.amd.com/products/cpg/duron/prodbrief.html:
"The latest workhorse in AMD's processor portfolio, the AMD Duron processor
enables a PC solution optimized for value-conscious business and home users.
Specifically, its forward-thinking design provides the capability and flexibility
necessary to meet current and future computing needs. In this respect,
systems based on the AMD Duron processor offer an outstanding level of
purchasing confidence to those in the market for an affordable yet capable
desktop computer system."
Intel Pentium III from
"Building Blocks: Mainstream PC Platform" at http://developer.intel.com/platforms/enterprise/main/main.htm:
"The Intel Pentium III processor integrates the P6 Dynamic Execution microarchitecture,
Dual Independent Bus (DIB) Architecture, a multi-transaction system bus,
Intel MMX media enhancement technology and the Intel Processor Serial Number.
With great performance for the Internet, the connected home, and multitasking
environments, Intel Pentium III processors are targeted at the range of
mainstream consumer and business users."
AMD Athlon from "You
Have the Power: AMD Athlon Processor Product Brief" at http://www.amd.com/products/cpg/athlon/prodbrief.html:
"The AMD Athlon processor provides exceptional processing power on real-world,
mainstream Microsoft Windows compatible software, as well as computation-intensive
applications for high-end desktops. These high-end workstation applications
include digital photo editing, digital video, commercial 3D modeling, image
compression, soft DVD, CAD, and speech recognition."
Intel Pentium 4 from
"Intel Pentium 4 Processor Product Overview" at http://developer.intel.com/design/Pentium4/prodbref:
"The Pentium 4 processor is designed to deliver performance across applications
and usages where end users can truly appreciate and experience the performance.
These applications include Internet audio and streaming video, image processing,
video content creation, speech, 3D, CAD, games, multi-media,and multi-tasking
user environments. The Intel Pentium 4 processor delivers this world-class
performance for consumer enthusiast and business professional desktop users
as well as for entry-level workstation users."
While it's not easy to
compare performance of CPUs from different manufacturers, or even across
model lines from the same manufacturer, at least one organization, MTek
Computing Consulting,tries to do it with its CPU Scorecard at http://www.cpuscorecard.com.
The CPU Scorecard benchmarks
are based on Intel's iCOMP performance index, a combined rating of integer,
floating-point, Internet (Java), and multimedia performance. And, as the
CPU Scorecard site states, "... flawed as they are, CPU benchmarks can
arguably provide the mostimportant information about how fast a computer
will ... well, compute!" Read all about the Intel iCOMP index in the "iCOMP
Index 3.0 Performance Brief: A Simplified Measure of Relative Processor
Performance May 2000" at http://www.intel.com/procs/perf/icomp/brief/index.htm.
The CPU Scorecard site publishes
three useful CPU metrics. The first is a raw performance number based on
the Intel iCOMP 3.0 index. The second is a relative percentage based on
the raw performance number. The CPU with the highest raw performance number
is assigned a score of 100 percent and all others are rated as a percentage
of that score. The third score is a ratio of price and performance that
can show the best relative value.
|Moreover, Pentium 4
systems may cost as little as $1,000 by the end of the calendar year.
On May 26, 2001, the best
performing CPUs were a 1.7-GHz Intel Pentium 4 and a 1.33-GHz AMD Athlon.
No doubt there will be changes as Intel and AMD release faster processors.
The best mainstream price/performance ratio was generated by 1.2- and 1.1-GHz
AMD Athlons and by 1-GHz and 866-MHz Pentium IIIs. The best value price/performance
ratio was generated by an 800-MHz AMD Duron. This is intuitively reasonable
as the best deals have traditionally come from those CPUs a step or two
behind the latest offerings.
While the CPU Scorecard
numbers are useful for some purposes, what really counts is how the computer
system will perform when all components and software are working together
on your tasks. Hardware and software should be well matched with no bottlenecks.
One recognized measure of a computer system's performance on both office
productivity and Internet content creation is SYSmark 2001 from the Business
Applications PerformanceCorp. (BAPCo). BAPCo is a nonprofit consortium
of leading computerindustry publications, independent testing labs, PC
hardware manufacturers, semiconductor manufacturers, and software publishers.
Its SYSmark 2001 permits comparisons between Intel Architecture systems
based on the performance of real-world applications running under Windows
2000, Windows 98 SE, and Windows 98 Millennium Edition. See http://www.bapco.com
for more information about BAPCo and the SYSmark 2001 benchmark.
In the past we have relied
on the PC System Design Guide for basic information and direction on specifications
for critical components including CPU speed, cache size, RAM, and storage.
Co-authored by Intel and Microsoft in consultation withthe industry, the
guide lists features that the hardware industry must consider when designing
PCs and peripherals for an optimal user experience in the Windows environment.
The latest version, published on November 2, 2000, goes into effect with
the release to manufacturing of the XP operating system. It applies to
PCs that ship in the second half of 2001. Table 1
provides a summary of the hardware requirements for a generic desktop computer
with variations for high-performance workstations and portables.
The 2001 guide will be the
last. "Intel and Microsoft will partner with the industry to develop future
design guidelinesthrough individual white papers. There are no plans for
Intel and Microsoft to co-author a comprehensive set of design guidelines
after PC 2001 System Design Guide." You can download an HTML, Word, or
PDF version of the 2001 guide from http://www.pcdesignguide.com/pc2001/default.htm.
|Smart devices ... will
be responsive to bandwidth constraints and network services, and they will
present applications and data optimized for hardware form factor.
Microsoft has built on the
foundation of the PC 2001 System Design Guide and circulated a PC Design
Checklist for Windows XP for comment. Industry review version 0.9 was released
on April 18, 2001. The checklist "provides manufacturers with a list of
capabilities and components that deliver the best performance and reliability,
and that deliver the exciting new end-to-end personal computing experiences
that characterize a Windows XP optimum PC system."
It's plain from reading
the PC Design Checklist that Microsoft believes capture, manipulation,
and presentation of video will be the next big thing. A system will need
a high-end processor, lots of memory, plenty of fast storage, and a powerful
video subsystem to perform well. The checklist offers these guidelines
beyond a fast processor: at least 128 MB of RAM (256 MB or more is better
according to early press reports), a minimum of 40 GB of 7,200 RPM hard
disk storage, and 4X AGP with 32 MB minimum (64 MB recommended) of video
RAM for the video subsystem. The checklist also calls for both DVD and
Other checklist highlights
include the end of legacy devices and a move toward the exclusive use of
USB and IEEE-1394 connections for peripherals of all kinds. Checklist version
0.7 recommends that, "The design of a Windows XP optimum PC system should
not allow easy end-customer access to any PCI or other system expansion
card slots. Instead, expansion is provided through external connectors.
(Internal PCI bus and devices must meet Windows Logo Program requirements.)"
This has been softened in version 0.9 to a recommendation that the best
practice is to implement a legacy-free design. Legacy-free means the elimination
of many elements of the original PC architecture. This should reduce performance
bottlenecks and configuration problems, and simplify upgrades and peripheral
additions to the point of true plug and play. Download the latest PC Design
Checklist for Windows XP at http://www.microsoft.com/hwdev/pcdesign
to see all the requirements and recommendations and to follow revisions
made to the draft document.
Given all we now know about
current and future directions, what PC systems are available to us today,
and how far ahead should we plan? In late May 2001, Gateway displayed an
easy-to-read table comparing basic models and prices across the budget,
mainstream, and performance spectrum at http://www.gatewayatwork.com/gw_atwork/productpages/gp/compare.asp?seg=sb.
All systems could be customized to meet local task, price, and performance
requirements. I describe three sample customized systems below. (Let me
stress that this is not an endorsement of Gateway. The company merely provides
a series of useful examples. Expect the URL noted above to change over
A Gateway Professional v800c
system can be customized to include an 800-MHz Celeron processor with 128
KB of cache and 128 MB RAM; 20-GB hard drive; CD-ROM drive; 17-inch monitor;
and integrated audio, video, and network interfaces. Software includes
Windows 98 SE and Microsoft Office XP Small Business Edition. There is
a 3-year parts-and-labor limited warranty. This value system cost $989
at the end of May 2001.
A Gateway Professional m1000
system can be customized to include a 1-GHz Pentium III processor with
256 KB of cache and 128 MB of RAM, 40-GB 7,200-RPM hard drive, CD-ROM drive,
17-inch monitor, 32-MB INVIDIA graphics card, SoundBlaster Audio PCI 128D,
and 3COM PCI Ethernet card.
The software includes Windows
98 SE and Microsoft Office XP Small Business Edition. It also has a 3-year
parts-and-labor limited warranty. This mainstream system cost $1,378 in
late May of 2001.
Looking further ahead to
Microsoft's XP operating system and working with video, it is possible
to customize a Gateway Professional s1700 system to include a 1.7-GHz Pentium
4 processor with 256 KB of cache and 256 MB RAM; 40-GB 7,200-RPM hard drive;
combination DVD/RW/CD-ROM; 17-inch monitor; and high-performance video,
sound, and networking package with 64-MB ATI graphics, SoundBlaster Live!,
and 3COM PCI 10/100 Ethernet cards. Software includes Microsoft Windows
2000 and Microsoft Office XP Small Business Edition. Like the other Gateway
systems, it also has a 3-year parts-and-labor limited warranty. This high-performance
system cost $2,382 at the end of May 2001.
Either of the first two
systems would be more than adequate for any Microsoft Office-based task,
and the Pentium III system would even work pretty well with modest video
creation and editing tasks when the right video capture card is added.
The Pentium 4 system presents a decision-making problem, because it's nearly
twice the price and doesn't provide any significant improvement in Microsoft
Office performance. However, if you need the performance it provides for
other tasks like working with multimedia files, or if you are planning
for the future, it may be the one to buy. That said, it might be a good
idea to wait until after Windows XP arrives and see how the hardware market
looks before buying specifically for that operating system.
A couple of near-term marketplace
predictions are not hard to make. First, processor speeds will increase
to 2 GHz over the coming year, and second, complete $1,000 1-GHz desktop
systems will become commonplace, further blurring the line between the
value and mainstreammarkets. Moreover, Pentium 4 systems may cost as little
as $1,000 by the end of the calendar year. Increasing competition at the
high end between Intel and AMD plus sluggish demand due to saturated markets
are the main reasons for these developments. Which components and peripherals
would be included in such systems is the big unknown.
According to Intel ("Intel
Pentium 4 Processor Debuts" at http://www.intel.com/eBusiness/products/desktop/p4p/ar003801.htm?iid=intel_p4+bus&):
"The role of the desktop PC in business is changing.Advanced data visualization
and business intelligence applications place a direct burden on the processor.
At the same time, growing use of network-based video and audio means that
PCs must manage high-bandwidth data communications and media display side-by-side
with traditional productivity software." The release of Microsoft Windows
XP later this year should help with multimedia content creation, manipulation,
and presentation at the desktop. Not long after, if everything goes well,
the .NET strategy will have us relying on networked smart devices that
do all sorts of interesting things silently in the background.
There's no way to predict
if the Pentium 4, Windows XP, and .NET will work together successfully
and open up new areas of desktop computing space, butalone or in combination
they certainly will make many tasks we perform now faster and easier. For
instance, some of us already create and distribute high-bandwidthstreaming
video for orientation, training, or classroom purposes, and we would welcome
anything that will speed up or ease the process. But our work with students
shows that user satisfaction with streaming video, whether it's a live
broadcast or playback of an archived file, is almost completely dependent
on the bandwidth to the viewer's desktop. And that's something neither
Intel nor Microsoft can do anything about.
As for the longer term,
an extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography technology prototype for making
computer CPUs wasunveiled at Sandia Labs in Livermore, California, on April
11, 2001. Intel, AMD, Motorola, Micron Technologies, Infineon,IBM, and
the federal Sandia and LawrenceLivermore national laboratories are all
part of the EUV consortium. PC processors made with this equipment, expected
to hit the market in 2005, will eventually run at 10, 20, or 30 GHz and
contain billions of transistors. You can read the full CNET News.com story,
"Coalition Shows Off Process for Faster Chips" by Michael Kanellos, and
view the related streaming video files at http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1003-200-5579137.html#.
When these chips become
widely available, real-time, high-definition video creation, manipulation,
and presentation; natural speech recognition; and idiomatic language translation
will be possible on the desktop. Later, combinations of these high-speed,
multibillion transistor processors will be at the heart of artificial agents
and machines that think. We have until 2005 to implement gigabit networking
to support these applications. It's time to get to work.
PC 2001 System Design Guide Hardware
or Differences for:
Advanced Programmable Interrupt
Controller (APIC) enabled
for multiprocessor, if implemented
No additional requirements
Additional battery and
Advanced Programmable Interrupt
Controller (APIC) not required
MB, 128 MB for systems designed for Windows 2000
MB RAM expandable to 2 GB
(see text following
PC supports Smart Battery or ACPI Control Method battery
required, PCI, SCSI optional, ISA prohibited
requirements for 64-bit PCI bus, bridges, and adapters, if implemented
USB available to user
USB available to user
playback capability required.
DVI, analog video input,
and capture requirements, if implemented
Follows AGP Pro Bus 1.1
specification, if implemented
PC has an integrated display
disk and CD or DVD required
hard disk requirements, if implemented
disk is primary boot device
* The system board must
support Advanced Configuration and Power Interface Specification, Version
for power management and plug and play. If software fan control
is implemented, thermal design and fan control comply with ACPI 1.0b.