|Happy New Year. Well, it was a pretty quiet year end this year. No major announcements to look at, no major companies going under, and no major viruses to watch out for. Of course, I considered the Tablet PC as a major new technology but you know what, it has been around for years and maybe this time, they will get it right. For major companies, naturally, who counts Enron. Anderson Consulting might be considered in that category depending on how many new technology startups were counting on their help to launch or go public. But Comdex was about more of the same with a lot of DVD software creation packages, more networking products, and a few bright spots like Intel’s unveiling of a P4 chip at over 3 gigahertz speed that uses a new technology called Hyper-Threading, the future is closer than we think. Check it out on their web site at www.intel.com
I had a wish list two months ago when I headed off to Comdex this year and while several companies are tinkering into these areas, no one has really come close to filling them. Not surprising as the show was quite a bit smaller than in recent years and even had less exhibitors than last year. When a company like Zone Labs becomes a major sponsor, and major giver of nice briefcases, you begin to wonder where this show is going. Now don’t misunderstand me, I think the world of the company and products Zone Alarm, but where were the IBMs, Dells, Compaqs (sorry HPQs), Toshibas, Symantecs, and the rest of the big companies. Microsoft had their usually large presence but when I started to walk around the booths, most of their consumer products were hard to find and the ton of add on companies in the past were missing as well.
So, did I think it was a bust of a show, not by a long shot. In fact, for me to find what I am looking for, the small side events like Digital/Mobile Focus, Show Stoppers, Pat Meier’s lunches and the private meetings where the places to be to see what is really going on at the show. So what follows are the things that stood out to me and so made it into my bag as I cruised the show.
IBM has always been one of my favorite companies to pick on. They have great products and services but always seem to be a bit off when bringing them to market. One example is the decision recently to get out of the desktop market for personal computers. But if you go on their web site, you will see all sorts of desktops being developed and sold. Same holds true for their diving into the Linux world. AT Comdex, they held a press conference supporting United Linux as the product to lead Linux into the next generations, http://www.unitedlinux.com/ but also on their web page suggest if you want to start with Linux, go with the Red Hat version.
A lot of products were merely updates from older versions and on the hardware side, this becomes more important now that the flat panel screens have had a jump in quality. One such screen is from BenQ, www.benq.com (an Acer company) the model FP591. It is bright at 500 nits (cd/m2) compared to the usual screen brightness of 200-250, and it has a higher contrast ratio of 450:1 compared to the usual of 350:1. And if that is not enough to convince you, the refresh rate is a blistering 16ms compared to the usual 30ms. What that means is it is truly a sharp bright and fast screen and sets the standards for LCD screens to come. And did I mention the built in speakers? This 15 inch model is not cheap at $499 but if you will spend a lot of time in front of your screen, look at this one.
Want a computer with a hybrid liquid cooling system, near silent operation, incredible graphics, and so much power that you could launch a satellite? Voodoo is a Canadian company at www.voodoopc.com that has really come up with some huge horsepower computers for gamers and those of us that just want a machine that is truly cooler than the rest. Computer Gaming World, the authority on this stuff according to my nephew Curtis, gave it a 5 Stars Editor's Choice in their November 2002 issue and also referred to it as "The Ferrari of Gaming PCs". These are not for the feint of wallet as each machine is built to your specifications but boy are they fast.
The show was full of DVD authoring and writing software and hardware and this is a technology that is creeping up on us. DVD drives have been around for a long time and on the home consumer front, are really making a dent in the market for folks who just rent or buy movies. The problem is that for the computer side, they are still wrangling as to what DVD re-writable format will be the one supported by the industry. A good site for information on the subject is Verbatim’s at www.verbatim.com. As a manufacturer of everything related to media, they are a good source to find out what is what in this field. When looking at their web site, look under the “support” pages. Speaking of Verbatim, they had one of the coolest things at the show (at least for those of us who remember vinyl 45s) and that was a Digital Vinyl CD-R disc.
One of the things I like about going to these kinds of shows is to see the companies that are market leaders in a field that you never hear about. Planar, www.planar.com, is one such company and the maker of LCD screens. What I like immediately about these is the faith that the company has in their products by offering a three year warranty with 2 day air replacement. They are bright, great contrast, fast response and a very good buy. PC Connection, one of my favorite internet ordering houses, www.pcconnection.com sells their 15 inch model for $270.
Maxtor, www.Maxtor.com, the hard drive makers has a new One Touch backup system that is an external hard drive connected via USB cable and software to make backing up your system much easier. The One Touch comes in sizes up to 250GB and with the software really makes backing up your system a snap. The 250 drive is only $399 and comes in Firewire and USB2.0 versions. CMS Products, www.cmsproducts.com also makes a similar drive and theirs connects to your computer via USB as well as Firewire and PCMCIA. Their ABS (Automatic Backup System) is a bit pricier in that the 60GB version for USB2.0 sells for $499. Another alternative is from companies like Belkin, www.belkin.com who sell the enclosures so that you add in your own hard drive. With the built in USB connection, you add your own drive, your own backup software, and you are on your way. For around $110. Last I looked, the WD 180GB drive was around $329 and you probably don’t need a drive that big.
GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) Systems have been out for quite a while and I really thought that this year would be the year to show off the technology but there really weren’t that many companies out there on the floor. Notably missing was Garmin, TravRoute, and Delorme among others. What was there were a couple of interesting products. One is from Pharos, www.pharosgps.com, who make GPS systems primarily for Pocket PC systems but can also connect to notebook computers. What I like so much about their systems is that if you want to take the GPS out with you, there is the Compact Flash (CF) GPS unit you just plug into your PDA and go. About $249. Another company I found sells the GPS unit for the PDA without any software which means you have to provide your own like Microsoft Streets and Trips. Rayming, www.rayming.com will provide the CF GPS unit for around $159 but don't look for it till mid year 2003.
There were a lot of interesting things at Comdex but honestly, nothing that really made you sit back and say I really got to have it. Well, maybe a couple of those huge plasma digital screens, but lets keep back to reasonable stuff. PC Magazine always has their “Best of Comdex” awards and so you can go to their web site to see what they thought was it: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,4149,716651,00.asp. Top award went to Microsoft’s Windows XP Tablet PC Operating System. To me, that tells me much about the fact that this show was more about improvements in products rather than startling new technologies. The hardware winner was a Viewsonic Airpanel V150 wireless display and the top software product was Corel’s Grafigo Tablet PC collaboration utility.
|And Maybe Next Time around…|
|For instance, Estari, www.estari.com has put together a dual touchscreen notebook with two 13 or 15 inch screens attached to each other. It starts at around $4000 but when I saw the display, it looked no where near as nice as the picture in the brochure. Using an onscreen keyboard, or touchpad or wireless mouse to get around, it certainly has some interesting possibilities.
VIA Technologies www.via.com.tw is getting close to the mark with their Hi-Fi PC Convergence design which is a single unit that will act as both a personal computer and multi-media entertainment device. Now where they come even closer to the mark is their efforts to encourage beyond the box thinking from designers using their new EPIA series of mainboards which are very small in form factor and very inclusive in connectivity. You can look at these including the very cool gas can PC at www.via.com.tw/en/VInternet/projects.jsp
A lot of Plasma Monitors were also on the show and the news from Fujitsu might be interesting. They were showing off their 50 inch Slimscreen monitor model PDS-5003 and boy is it sharp. It boasts a 3000:1 contrast ratio (compared to most LCD panels of 350:1), and a brightness of 500 nits or cd/m2 compared to the normal screens 250. What is also interesting is if you visit their web site, they tell you that all bets are off on the warranty if you buy it over the internet or through a “non-authorized” dealer because these screens require “an extensive amount of pre and post sale support, support that cannot be adequately provided over the internet”. Does that mean they need a lot of repair. Besides that, the cost will also set you back $13,000. Take a look at www.plasmavision.com/.
Several companies were selling products to keep your computer cool. Some were nothing more than case fans that you add in (and some had really cool lights on them), some were replacement CPU Fans with some bells and whistles to either make it run quieter or push more air, and then some were a combination of thermostat and a case fan that comes on and off depending on the inside temperature. Active Cool, www.activecool.com is an interesting concept to try out. It starts with a thermal electric device and fan that sits on the CPU itself. In fact, if you run it unmounted on a chip, it gets very cold and ices up! Besides the chip cooler, it also includes a PCI card that is also a cooling controller to help cool the inside of the case and it connects to the case fan as well. With a separate AC power supply for the PCI card, it keeps going even if the computer shuts down. About $120.
Several years ago, I picked up an inexpensive digital camera at Comdex from a new company called Largan. www.largan.com. It was the beginning of the really cheap camera and unfortunately with this first one, you got what you paid for. Since then, I have been looking at the low end cameras to see if one can become worth buying and they have come out with a new model that is 3.3 megapixels with a 4X zoom. So I can't wait to get my hands on it to see how it really does. Stay tuned.
Another option for backup systems is something like DiskOnKey, www.diskonkey.com that is a 512mb storage in a small USB based unit. They are expensive with the 512MB version going for $399 but it gives you a very small go anywhere storage option. Unfortunately, easy to loose as a friend has found out.
Things I didn't see at Comdex but Wish I Did.
Road Wired, www.roadwired.com has a digital camera bag called the pod. With 20+ compartments and storage nooks it will carry everything for you from memory cards to batteries to flash to cables to you name it. IN the main compartment, there is even a hammock that you set your camera in to keep it suspended in the bag! That is truly neat. For $50.
For Pocket PC Users (and others), you can down download books, manuals, and even some news services to your computer and then to your hand held device like the Pocket PC, RIO MP3 player, Handspring Visor, and more. It is a service you subscribe to so the savings over the usual books on tape or CD can be significant. www.audible.com
What was interesting this year was the number of booths devoted to encouraging technology companies to move to their locations like Malaysia, France, Sweden, and Indiana among other places.
If you haven’t finished your holiday shopping, take a look at all the cool stuff that Logitech is coming out with. For the more productive of buyers come cordless keyboards, mice, and trackballs. They also have a cool variety of web and digital cameras including a cordless version; accessories for phones and palm PDA devices, and a wide range of game pads, joysticks, and steering wheels for the gamers. www.Logitech.com.
Want a fingerprint recognition system for your office door? Check out www.ewaytek.com. Sorry no prices available yet on these but it looks neat.
HTPCWorks, at www.htpcworks.com has a computer just for the RV market. Using mostly traditional, but small, components, they have built a computer and entertainment center to go. With this box, you can connect it to a standard TV or use a flat panel screen to both use as a computer and television. Built in DVD drive/player, an ATI for the TV connection, you are all set to go online or watch movies with this unit. Around $1300 without the monitor.
Need to keep those memory chips cooler? Cooler Master, www.coolermaster.com has heat sinks that go onto the memory chips themselves to cool them down. Microsoft came out with a very small optical mouse for use with notebooks in confined spaces that was cool. Toshiba showed off a notebook that was only 2.2 pounds and extremely thin; and Logitech has a pen that might be an engineers dream that remembers everything you write. It’s called the io!
Panasonic had a pretty small digital camcorder that weighed in at a mere 3.5 ounces. The SV AV10 uses SD Memory cards, easily fits into a shirt pocket and can be had for around $399.
Want to see some really cool PC Cases of all sorts? Lian-Li, www.lian-li.com, has an excellent variety of aluminum cases and accessories. For the really wild cases, the Taiwan pavilion area had some pretty crazy things but it seems most were not yet available to us.
Finally, the coolest thing I saw at Comdex (besides the Mini Cooper that Iomega was giving away) was the Duesenberg Roadster at the Mobile Focus event.
There were a lot more things to look at and so you will have to wait for reviews and first looks later on so let me give you some web sites to look at. www.creo.com, www.muvee.com, www.iolo.com, www.pentaware.com, www.cloudmark.com, www.intego.com, www.reallusion.com, www.mailwasher.net, and more to come.
Intel Technology Briefing
One of the great things about attending the APCUG events at Comdex Fall is the chance to listen to people that really know technology give us some insights to what is new and what to look for. Once such speaker was Pat Gelsinger, VP and Chief Technology Officer for Intel Corporation. Pat got his start at Intel as an engineer and quality assurance technician working on the 8086 and 8088 processors. He moved up to work on the really fast 12 megahertz 386 and then was one of the original designers on the 486 platforms. Pat says that one of the first things he noticed about the speed of the technology was that faster hardware creates a vacuum that software then rushes in to fill. He then went on to tell us about what Intel research has found about the personal computer. For instance, 70 percent of homes now have a personal computer with 40 percent of those having more than one. There are somewhere over half a billion PCs in use today with the actual 1 billionth PC being produced and shipped in 2002. By 2005, we will see PC number 2 billion being shipped. Of all those systems, 18 million of those will be sold in China in 2003. By 2004, their research shows that web development will dominate the applications being developed.
Online revenues will be jumping very soon as well. They are predicting that by 2006, online gaming revenue will be at $1.8b and Digital music revenue will be $1.7b. So with all this research going on and with the numbers looking so large. Intel naturally will be a big part of it all and Pat tells us that what drives Intel today is for them to continue to “Obey the Law”. That law of course is George Moore’s law of doubling the transistors in a processor every 18 to 24 months and they have been doing this for the past 30 years. The good news for all of us is that the cost of performance drops every time a new processor comes out.
The breakthrough in technology for the next 30 years according to Pat will be the Hyper-Threading Technology (HT) that is now available in their new 3 gigahertz Pentium 4 processor. What HT does is to make a single processor look like multiple processors to the software. There are some packages out there that take advantage of this and are seeing a 25% improvement in performance. With a quick calculation, you can see on a 3 Gigahertz system, something like having an additional 750mhz on your computer. So look for new software applications taking advantage of the HT. For a more in-depth look at HT, go to Intel’s web site at http://www.intel.com/pressroom/archive/releases/20021114comp.htm. Pat also talked about Intel’s upcoming technology called La Grande Technology (LT). He sees this to be a technology that focuses on a safer processing environment with a hardware means to enable protected execution, memory, and data files.
The next major technology that Intel is encouraging is the Universal Plug and Play (UPNP) and Pat says that there are over 400 companies working on applications and devices. He sees this technology being the one that can actually bring different systems together in both the home and office. As the digital home becomes more of a reality, people will want to be able to plug different devices into their network and as the wireless local area networks (WLANS) become hugely popular in the next year, he sees a lot of mobile devices becoming part of those networks. Right now there are an estimated 25,000 wireless hot spots in the USA and that number will balloon.
Anther technology that Pat told us about from Intel was “Banias”, a platform for mobile processors that will enable high performance, long battery life, seamless wireless integration, and an innovative form factor. The notebook prototype he showed us was incredibly advanced showing a super thin design, extremely bright screen, and was always connected. And it only weighed in at 2.2 pounds. This is stuff to dream about as I lug my old dinosaur weighing 10 pounds with cables, batteries, and struggling to keep it connected. This is great stuff to look forward to.
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