Comdex, the Computer Dealers Exhibition, is a show in transition I found when in Las Vegas this past November. Unfortunately, it did neither well for the presentations, vendors exhibiting, and people attending as the show organizers decided late in life to make it an IT only focused show. Too bad for all the people who bought their tickets and hotel and especially for those off shore manufactures from Taiwan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Korea among others who were looking to connect with distributors and dealers? So what happened was that only half of the usual crowd made it, less than half the usual exhibitors and none of the big names were there. You didn’t see IBM, Hitachi, Sony, Dell, Toshiba, HP Compaq, Symantec, Lotus, Gateway, and many of the other big names. Was it a waste? Well, it depends on who you talk to.
The biggest impression I got besides the smaller show floor was the biggest things to show were improvements in existing designs and technologies. Faster computers, bigger monitors, smaller prices, and a step up in speeds on everything from DVD drives to Networks to processors. What follows will be in no particular order other than where it ended up in the pile. Some really useful things, some neat new technologies, and some that can be questionable.
Some of the most interesting things I saw were off the show floor over at a fabulous Italian restaurant called Piero’s. It is run by a wonderful lady Pat Meier-Johnson, who, like me, likes to travel in distant far off places, and she runs a Public Relations firm that brings a number of companies to show off products. Last year, was a number of really neat ways to build computers into interesting cabinets among other things, and this year she had several things that caught my eye. You will see some of those listed below.
Cute things to look at included a Ferrari notebook from Acer and the Biker bash sponsored by Pepcom complete with some really awesome Harleys.
Maxtor is stepping up their presence in the disk drive line with a new lineup of products both internal with the high speed SCSI and Serial ATA drives along with their usual lineup of IDE drives topping out to up to 300 gigabytes. They also have a pretty good lineup of external drives from Firewire to both versions of USB. They have also rounded out the lineup with controller cards for SATA, Ultra ATA, and Firewire 1394. One product that they have that is not yet on the shelves yet which I hope to see is their QuickView lineup of quiet running drives. Right now, they are in the new Toshiba line of DVD video Recorders, the RD-SX41. Look at the product news section on Maxtor’s web site at www.maxtor.com, and depending on your Japanese, check out Toshiba’s site at www.rd-style.com.
For People on the Go
If you are like a lot of people who lose your little USB Disk on Key or Thumb Drive, here is a solution for you. A wrist watch with built in USB memory and connector. Look at them at www.xonix.com
Targus, www.targus.com is a maker of computer carry bags and cases and have come up with a great new lineup that finally does it right. Their new Port series has a lot of new features but my favorite was the Pr700 Easy Roller. Besides having a lot of usual goodies inside, it has an air cushion system to protect your notebook and even better, has an AirTrak pneumatic wheel system to give your bag a very soft run over all sorts of surfaces. Around $119.
Microsoft was showing off its Windows Mobile Software for Smartphone’s, www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile. It is their version of the Treo smartphones and what I like about it is the combination of the usual Windows products you are used to using on your desktop including outlook, messenger, and explorer while also giving you support for security, passwords, and VPN. We saw one phone from Motorola, and one from Sierra Wireless, and you will also see them from Samsung, Mitac, and others.
And speaking of phones, one of the more interesting ones I saw was a company fairly new to these shores, Aico Systems, www.aicosystems.com who has a Telephone system called Talk Pro. Talk Pro is one of two handsets that either plug into a Cat 5 outlet on your network router or a USB device that plugs into your computer. With Talk Pro, you are using the new technology, Voice over IP to make long distance telephone calls over the internet and the calls that I heard them make at the show were really clear. Just like using a standard land line. According to their PR person, VOIP is expected to hit 7 million users by 2007. If you call another Talk Pro phone, and each phone has its own seven digit phone number, the call is free. To call someone in the USA, Canada, and China that have only a landline, it is less than 4 cents a minute. Less than 5 cents a minute for France, Sweden, and New Zealand, and less than 6 cents a minute for calls to Switzerland, Japan, and Israel. For technology connected companies (or actually anyone else) doing business overseas, it seems like a no brainer to me. You just prepay the minutes on their web site and call. So if you have a computer, get the USB phone that sells for around $110. No computer but access to an internet port, get the broadband based unit for $170. Finally, another really neat idea for using these phones is to turn an internet café into an international calling center.
Saw two notebooks that are pretty neat and sleek. Having hauled around a rather large and heavy notebook for long enough, thought I would take a look at a couple of new notebooks. One from Panasonic in part of their “semi-rugged” line of notebooks is the Toughbook W2. 2.8 pounds including the Combo DVD/CDRW drive and a very thin 12.1 inch LCD with all the usual networking built in. Around $2200.
IBM has their slim notebook in the X31 series and for around $2000 you get a similarly configured model but will weigh in at around 4 pounds. My preference would be the ThinkPad from IBM mostly because of a long history I have with these notebooks and their reliability. All of these are the new Centrino Mobile technology and with the IBM, you can replace the CD drive with a battery to give you 10 hours on the go.
Hardware for the Office
If you are looking for an all in one heavy duty printer, scanner, fax, and copier, take a look at the Xerox WorkCentre PE16 model. The specs are great with a print speed of 17 pages per minute, scan resolution up to 1200 dpi, print resolution of 600 dpi, and the capability to handle up to 10,000 pages in a month. www.xerox.com/office. For $599.
Netgear, www.netgear.com has introduced a very interesting new wireless access point device, the model WG302. This unit is for deploying a hot spot anywhere in your network. All you need to do is to get a standard Cat5 cable to where ever you want the hot spot, and plug in this unit. You don’t need a power connector as the unit takes it’s power from the Cat5 connection supporting the Power over Ethernet if it is connected to a switch that supports the PoE technology. Look for a price of around $350.
One of the things that get on my nerves lately is the sound of jet engines taking off when running a fast computer these days. Most new Pentium IV systems should be running three fans. One from the power supply, one on the CPU itself, and one inside the case to keep the system cool enough. So one of the things I looked for while at Comdex was some quiet cooling solutions and came up with a couple worth taking a look at. The first company was Zalman, www.zalmanusa.com, who makes all sorts of components to quiet your computer down from fans with variable speeds for silent mode when the system is cool enough to power supply replacements, to cooling solutions for video cards and hard drives.
One other company offering a solution kit is FSP Group, www.fsp-group.com.tw who also have a kit that includes power supply replacement, cpu fan, and case fan for all around $65. With the thermal controlled fans, the system should automatically monitor itself to lower fan speed and noise even further if the system doesn’t need the cooling capacity.
Niveus Media, www.niveusmedia.com has a product that I think will soon find a home in many small offices, businesses, and even the home. It is the Blackbox personal server. What it does is give you a server system in a small package that will sit quietly in a corner of your house or office and be the backup, traffic cop, and storage center for your data files, pictures, videos, or whatever you want to save. It runs a Linux operating system, is quiet because it has no fans and has been designed for ease of use. It will start with a price of $399.
Things for the Home
One company I always enjoy looking for while at Comdex is Falcon Northwest at www.falcon-nw.com. They are one of the best makers of Gaming computers you will find anywhere and they have quite an array of ways to make your computer a very unique experience. Most anyone can put parts together but these guys really do it with flair and they know their stuff so if you are into the really big graphic shoot em up games, they know just what you need. I just love taking a close look at the insides of the cases and talking to their designers to see what they do to really make them different.
Another company I always like to look for is Via Technologies, www.viatech.com. It isn’t always so much what they are doing, it is what other companies are doing with their products. Via makes a variety of unique products from motherboards to audio processors and the like but what people do with them is interesting. Last year we saw things like computers made to look like toasters and this year one company showed off a school bus case. If you need a really small form factor mainboard, Via is a company to take a look at. One of their other uses is in a series of Robots that was shown as well. White Box Robotics, www.whiteboxrobotics.com, has a new line of robots coming out that I think just might be a hit. They won’t be available for a few more months but when they do hit, you will find them quite inexpensive, very functional personal computers, and able to do a variety of tasks. With a highly accurate differential drive system, made of aircraft quality aluminum, and with enough drive bays to store terabytes of information, the robot is intended for you to modify it to what you need it to do. Put an LCD screen on it to make it a uniquely personal entertainment center, or go rugged for an automated moving watch machine for security patrols indoor or out. Pricing is expected to start around $1300.
Thinking about Linux for 2004? It could be a hard sell, as it seems that they are really getting at each other with the latest round of litigation messing up the works. I wrote about a new unified system for Linux called United Linux, www.unitedlinux.com/, but it seems the major players here are infighting and you really wonder what that does to the product. Also I hear notes of Red Hat cutting back on what it offers for free. On the good news side, I am seeing more and different boxes using Linux or a form thereof, to power things like personal web servers and the like.
Microsoft was handing out small cards telling you how to keep your computer protected and their advise is worth following. Use an internet firewall, update your computers software, and use and up to date antivirus program. You can see more on their web site at www.microsoft.com/security.
There are still the debates about the different formats for DVD recordable devices and as we move to higher capacity standards, they aren’t there yet so you need to be careful when upgrading to DVD. One group is the Recordable DVD Council, www.rdvdc.org. They have a number of heavyweights on their side but then again, so does the other. So maybe for the time being, it is better to get a DVD recorder that handles all the formats: DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM. LG Electronics as a new model GSA-4040B that does that. The Sony that I use does not support the DVD-RAM format at this time but then again, I am not sure I care at this point.
One of the big press events I went to last year was from nVidia www.nvidia.com showing off their upcoming line of video cards and wow, were the demos ever cool and exciting to watch. This year, they were actually showing these cards in use in a number of computers at their event (again, not on the show floor), and I was glad I stopped to take a look. One of the first that I was excited to see was the Mobile GeForce FX Go5700. This is not something you can buy for your computer but will be built in by several manufacturers into their laptops beginning in the New Year. Look for machines from Alienware, www.alienware.com and Toshiba www.csd.toshiba.com, to have this processor and making claims to the fastest graphics machines anywhere. In addition, you can start to look for 17 inch notebooks as well as companies realize that you can take it all with you. What we see with this new graphics line is much improved shadow handling in animation images and a new smart dimmer technology that can change the level of light on a screen as the outside light changes. What seems to stand out with this version of the software is the ease of use for developers with their unified driver architecture to allow a standardization of video drivers across manufacturers. This applies both to the desktop cards as well and it really shows that they have stepped up the level of what video cards can do as we see these Graphic Processor Units on the video cards becoming more like main line processors in that they can be programmed and have specialized software written for them to do a number of tasks. You are also looking at 128MB or more of graphics memory and 128 bits to memory interface. What all this does is to improve performance and stability and for many of us who have to deal with unstable graphic card software in the past, this is a welcome improvement.
And Finally, Something You Have to Have
I have seen this kind of thing in the past handed out as trinkets for phone extension cables and I am talking about retractable cords and cables. But finally, we found a company that knows how to do it right and wow, are these things terrific! ZIP-LINQ is the name, www.ziplinq.com and these cables really work and work great. I don’t know about you but I have enough stuff in my carry bag to put me over the weight limit with all the extension cords and the like but what I found from these folks not only takes care of my simple cables like phone, cat5, and USB, but they also carry some of the neatest audio and PDA and phone connectivity solutions I have seen in a long time. Right now, I carry a cell phone that has a car adapter cord and a standard AC adapter charger cord. For the same amount of space those two adapters take up, I got the Zip-Linq Phone kit that includes just the heads for the AC and Car adapters but also a Zip-Linq USB Extension cable and a very tiny USB head in for my phone. Not only do I get to charge the phone by Car or AC, I can also charge it by the USB port on my computer! A part of Cables Unlimited, Zip-Link will also carry a line of firewire cables, phone headsets, and other USB connected devices including a mouse and a light. Where I go, this kit goes.
I had a few more interesting things come out of the Comdex pile of stuff I brought home. Did you know that IT outsourcing is expected to become a $54 billion global market in the next five years. The obvious indicator is when you call a computer company and get a very nice English spoken with an Indian accent. 64 bit computing is being seen in a few places as AMD is selling the new AMD Athlon 64 (www.amd.com) and has a number of companies making motherboards already for it. Intel will soon follow with their version but at this time, most software still can’t take advantage of their Pentium IV with Hyper-Threading. It is a never ending chase but the benefit to us is higher performance at a better cost. One of the conferences talked about trends in South Asia and a comment printed was that Australia “is 85% Urban, more than the U.S.“ Think about that one and all those wonderful spacious pictures of the outback. Did you know that Amazon.com has 9 distribution centers and more than 13 million products in their catalog? Here is a new buzz word for you. OLED which stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. How about a roll up video screen or objects that can change colors and no, there weren’t any of these on the show floor. But then again, a quick search on Google shows it has been around for several years PC Magazine had an interesting article from June of 2003 that is worth taking a look at.
In the Comdex Daily report, it listed the top 10 business trends for 2004 with number 1 being Viruses and Spam will get worse, not better. Well, that is certainly not that comforting at all. I have always tried to stress the need to keep your anti virus software up to date and if you don’t know whether it is or not, then you should make the effort to find out. Check it often as one of the things that a new virus will do is often disable the anti virus software. Trend number three is all about internet telephony and I have some interesting thoughts on that as I reviewed a TalkPro internet phone which you can see in this publication. It means more options, I now have three different phones and services to make calls on, and hopefully, lower prices as well. Trend five talked about the proliferation of wireless hot spots and networks. Look for more free ones out there as well.
One interesting application I found was from Infommersion, www.infommersion.com. It is a product to as they call it, bring Excel spreadsheets to life. You use it to create interactive applications that allow you to easily use your spreadsheets. In a nutshell, it is a report generator for Excel datasheets but it really goes beyond that with some of the samples they were showing off. $195.
One of the more interesting brochures I got my hands on was the “Showcase of Taiwan’s Best” from the winners of their national awards of excellence. You can find all of these winners at:: http://taiwaninnovalue.com. The first item in the catalog is from Giga-Byte Technology, http://tw.giga-byte.com and is a very elegantly designed presentation pointer that is mouse, memory card, remote control, and laser pointer all built into one device. Really cool.
Having spent a few days before Comdex with friends traveling around Death Valley gave me time to take a look at the GPS systems they had and so I went looking for them on the floor. Found several that looked interesting. Pharos is one company doing this for quite a while and I will have one for next month’s issue as a review. Two others I saw at Comdex looked very interesting and both were from Korean companies. The first was Thinkware, http://www.thinkwaresys.com/, has a unique navigation system that uses a PDA in your car. Normally with most mapping packages, you see graphic representations of a map and the streets. With their package, you actually see landmarks, a birds eye view, and a really different way of viewing the map. The second Korean company is SysOnChip, Inc, www.sysonchip.co.kr. Like Thinkware, they have a unique way of presenting the maps to you as you travel. They also have come out with a Bluetooth version to use with either their software or your own.
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