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MMX chips will drive DVD

The new MMX processor reaches PC vendors' waiting hands. New systems, some with DVD drives, are coming.

Intel (INTC) is delivering the first in what will be a long line of MMX processors and many top PC vendors have already announced plans to use the chip in new systems, including those with DVD drives.

MMX technology, combined with other new fundamental enhancements to the new Pentiums, should enhance performance of multimedia functions such as graphics and communications, compared to traditional or "classic" Pentium processors.

Initially, the other enhancements to the chip--not the pure MMX technology--will set it apart from classic Pentiums. These hardware improvements include more built-in memory, referred to as cache, and tweaks to allow more efficient processing. More cache speeds up processing. These basic improvements should speed up processing between 10 and 20 percent over classic Pentiums.

For applications which have been specifically written to take advantage of MMX, Intel is claiming a 60-percent performance improvement on "media-rich" programs over classic Pentiums, but this performance improvement can vary significantly depending on the application.

However, there is currently little business software available commerically that has been rewritten to take advantage of MMX.

"It's a chicken and egg thing. There's going to be an incubation period for applications," said Craig Barrett, Intel's chief operating officer. "We'll see more applications over the next 12 months," he added.

"Within the next 120 days you should see more business apps," said a marketing executive at a major notebook PC manufacturer. "Right now, it's primarily video conferencing for business and then gaming," he added.

Some analysts are pessimistic about the prospects of a swell of business applications being written for MMX. "MMX is pretty much irrelevant to business," said Martin Reynolds, an analyst at Dataquest, a San Jose, Calif.-based market research firm.

But companies such as Motorola and Netscape will offer products with potential business application. Motorola will come out with an MMX-based software modem and Netscape's Live3D 2.0 plug-in for Netscape Navigator will use MMX to give users the capability to view more complex 3D images on the Net.

Also, Intel has rewritten applications such as the Intel Video Phone to take advantage of MMX for better compression and decompression of the video signal and smoother, clearer video.

Gaming and entertainment, however, is where most of the development and commercial-product activity is taking place right now.

The bottom line for MMX is improved performance and the fact that all Intel processors from here on out will be MMX based. Therefore, vendors are lining up to bring out new systems.

The chart below shows entry-level models in both business and consumer product lines; most of the companies shown also offer 200-MHz models:

Company/
Model
Speed Memory Hard drive Price
Hewlett-
Packard 7320
166-MHz 16 MB EDO 2.1 GB $1,799
Toshiba
Infinia 7220
200-MHz 32 MB EDO 3.73 GB NA
Gateway 2000
Destination D5-166
166-MHz 32 MB 2.5 GB $2,999
(1)
Gateway 2000
P5-200FPC
200-MHz 32MB SDRAM 2.5 GB $2,469
(2)
AST
Advantage 9318
166-MHz 24 MB 1.6 GB $1,799
Dell
Dimension
XPS M
166-MHz 32MB SDRAM 3.2 GB $2,199
(2)
Dell
Optiplex G
166-MHz 16MB EDO 1GB $1,902
(2)
Compaq
Presario 4764
166-MHz 24MB SDRAM 2.1 GB $1,899
Compaq
Presario 8760
166-MHz 32MB SDRAM 2.5 GB $1,999
IBM
Aptiva S80
166-MHz 32 MB NA $2,399
Sony
VAIO PCV-100
166-MHz 32 MB EDO 2.5 GB $1,999
(1) includes 31-inch monitor
(2) prices includes monitor

Sony and Toshiba will be among the first to incorporate DVD-ROM drives into their systems that contain the new processors. Sony only says that it will offer DVD drives later this year, while Compaq says it will have DVD drives in some of its systems by March of this year.

Meanwhile, MMX notebook offerings will also be plentiful.

Compaq is targeting the consumer notebook space for MMX with the Presario 1080. The 1080 will offer a 12.1-inch active matrix display, 16 MB RAM, 1.44 GB hard drive and 10X CD-ROM for $3,999. No availability date was given.

IBM will incorporate the new processor into the ThinkPad 760 model, which will have a 12.1-inch display, hard drive capacity up to 3.0 GB, and an 8X CD-ROM. Availability is slated for second quarter 1997.

Texas Instruments announced today that they will introduce two models, the 6160 and 6160NT, which will sport the 166-MHz Pentium with MMX, a 12.1-inch active matrix display, 32 MB of EDO memory, a 2.1 GB hard drive, and 10X CD-ROM drive starting at an estimated street price of $4,999. The new models are slated for availability in February.

Toshiba, Hitachi and AST also announced new notebooks that will use a version of the 166-MHz MMX Pentium processor.

Vendors are hoping the new technology, which missed the big Christmas season, will have an impact on sales. The number of new consumer models introduced today confirms that MMX initially will mean more to gaming and entertainment than to the business market.