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1996 may be the year for 1394

A new hardware architecture standard designed to make it easy to connect next-generation consumer PCs to consumer electronics devices seems ready to take over the PC industry.

A new hardware architecture standard designed to make it easy to connect next-generation consumer PCs to consumer electronics devices and embraced this week by IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Compaq Computer seems ready to take over the PC industry, including even PC servers.

Data sent between a computer CPU and peripheral devices travels along what is called a bus. The speed of the bus is critical to determining how fast a computer performs, even if the processor is a real barn-burner, because it circulates information between all the different components.

Microsoft has promoted the 1394 bus specification as a new standard for connecting peripheral devices to computers. Its merits are: it can transfer data from peripheral device to computer at a rate of 400 mbps (later increasing to 1.2 gigabits), a rate faster than current storage technology; it can daisy-chain together up to 63 peripheral devices, including digital camcorders, DVD players, hard disk drives, and satellite dishes for delivering MPEG-2 video; it makes setting up the devices much simpler; and it's designed to be cheap.

Trumpeted by Microsoft this week at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in San Jose, support for 1394 seems to be exploding onto the PC scene. IBM even suggested that 1394 may be an alternative to traditional connectivity methods found in almost all PCs today, such as SCSI and IDE.

The 1394 technology will be the linchpin for integrating digital audio and video into future IBM PCs, said Gerald Marazas, an IBM senior engineer for architecture and strategy.

Marazas added that 1394 would initially be added to PCs using plug-in adapter boards but that eventually it would be fully integrated into both consumer and commercial PCs.

IBM also talked about its plans at WinHEC for establishing a new home computing environment. Here, "thin client" PCS--meaning low-cost computers--will be hooked up to home servers, allowing the PC to be readily and simultaneously accessible by different members of the family, said Ozzie Osborne, a vice president at IBM.

Products will begin to roll out later this year from IBM, Osborne said.

Microsoft also intends 1394 to eventually be a core technology for servers, thus bringing all those benefits to network administrators, as well as home users.

"We want to maintain high availability of the [1394] bus...high availability for server devices. This is further down the road," said Steve Timm, a Microsoft senior technical evangelist, referring to the need for the 1394 design to accommodate servers in the future.

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