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PC of the future

Tomorrow's PCs will pack in such technologies as 300-MHz MMX chips and powerful 3D graphics, a research firm reports.

Next year's basic PC will look much like today's high-end workstation--packed with technologies such as 300-MHz MMX chips and powerful 3D graphics technology.

As Intel has intended, the PC is quickly evolving into a machine designed to run a whole new range of applications, this according to a marketing research firm that this week charted a three-year road map for Intel-based PCs.

MicroDesign Resources says that "mainstream" desktop systems in 1998 will come standard with 64MB of memory, 8MB of graphics memory based on Intel's upcoming 2X Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) 3D technology, and hard disk drives ranging from 5 to 10 gigabytes in capacity, the MicroDesign report predicts.

Mainstream personal computers should also have very-high-fidelity audio based on 32-bit PCI technology instead of today's 16-bit technology. This will allow next-generation surround-sound technologies to become standard.

Many mainstream PCs should also be equipped with 1394-Firewire, offering high-speed connection to consumer electronics devices at speeds up to 50MB per second. The will allow direct hook-up of digital camcorders and VCRs. Universal Serial Bus connections for peripheral equipment such as scanners and low-end cameras will also be ubiquitous.

Mainstream systems are generally defined as computers priced between $2,000 and $3,000.

The mainstream PC today, by comparison, comes with 16 or 32 MB of memory, 2MB of graphics memory, and 2 or 3GB hard disk drives.

The flashier technologies such as advanced 3D graphics, 1394 connections, and the fastest processors are expected to be more prevalent on consumer PCs than business PCs which typically do not require many frills since they are used to run straight-forward applications such as word processors, spreadsheets, and email.

Consumer PCs, however, will always require the latest-and- greatest performance-boosting technologies such as AGP graphics, fast Pentium II or K6 processors, and fast memory to run demanding graphics-rich games and multimedia applications.

The speed of memory subsystems will become increasingly important as processor speeds increase. Many computers that today come standard with 40-MHz EDO memory will have high-speed 100-MHz Synchronous DRAM memory subsystems in 1998, according to MicroDesign. Later, possibly in 1999, systems will appear with 400-MHz "Direct RDRAM" based on technology from Rambus.

Notebook PCs will also become much more compelling in 1998, equipped for the first time with 300-MHz processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, according to the market researcher. Intel's "Deschutes" processor will debut with power consumption requirements stingy enough to allow it to be used in notebooks. AMD, for the first time, will have a 300-MHz K6 processor suitable for notebooks. Cyrix will also be shipping a 233-MHz version of its M2 processor.

Looking further out to 1999, systems with 96MB of memory and a 10GB hard drive will be common. The chips of choice in 1999 will include the 400-MHz "Katmai" Intel processor with next-generation MMX 2 technology. Deschutes chips should also hit speeds of 400 MHz.

Chip road map
=Intel &nbsp &nbsp =AMD &nbsp &nbsp =Cyrix
Chip speed 1997 1998 1999
&nbsp &nbsp Merced*
&nbsp Katmai Deschutes
Pentium II
Pentium II
Pentium II
233MHz Tillamook
Pentium II
200MHz P54C
Pentium Pro
&nbsp &nbsp
K5 &nbsp &nbsp
Source: MicroDesign Resources

The highly anticipated 64-bit Merced processor from Intel and Hewlett-Packard is expected to debut in servers running at blisteringly fast speeds of 600 MHz and possibly zooming up to 1 GHz later.

The fastest chips in the industry currently come from Digital Equipment and run at 600 MHz. Digital's processors could eventually reach performance levels equal to, or beyond, the Merced in the same time frame. Future PowerPC processors, which power Macintosh and Macintosh-compatible computers, could also reach performance levels that rival or outperform the Merced.

Closer to home, in the second half of this year, computer users can expect to see 233-MHz "Tillamook" mobile processors from Intel and K6 processors from AMD running at 266 MHz, as well as some 300-MHz processors from AMD. Cyrix is also expected to introduce its M2 processor.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.