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Intel touts new display group

The new Digital Display Working Group's goal is to improve and simplify how different hardware components connect.

PALM SPRINGS, California--One of the next big stages for PC development will be improving the plugs, according to Pat Gelsinger, vice president of Intel's desktop product group, including a new group for defining the connection to the growing flat-panel display market.

Intel and a number of its partners at the Intel Developer Forum here today rolled out a series of initiatives aimed at improving and simplifying how different hardware components connect.

The new Digital Display Working Group, for instance, will set out to define specifications for how flat-panel digital displays will connect, both physically and electrically, to PCs. Also, a new workstation specification sets out standard designs for motherboards and chassis.

While arguably not as exciting as faster processor speeds or better graphics, standardized design specifications will essentially make it easier for PC vendors to adopt more exciting technologies, such as 1394 ports for input devices beyond keyboards and mice, because the costs associated with adoption will be reduced. The 1394 specification is for connecting data-intensive peripheral devices to PCs such as digital camcorders and VCRs.

The new standards will also provide a track for older technologies to be eased out over the next 18 months, added Gelsinger.

"The bottom line is really cool displays," Gelsinger said in his keynote at the conference. "I don't know about you, but I get really excited about some of the cool looking flat-panel displays."

Because of lower prices, flat-panel liquid crystal displays are showing up increasingly in computer retail stores such as CompUSA and at resellers such as Computer Discount Warehouse.

Intel itself will begin to absorb some of the standards efforts into its own chipsets.

By 1999, Intel will implement various security "primitives"--requisite building block functions such as random number generation--into its chipsets, said Dan Russell, director of platform marketing for Intel.

Currently, random number generation is controlled by software. Integrating these functions into hardware will both increase performance and reduce costs by making these features a standard part of the PC platform. Chipsets that support the Rambus memory protocol will appear by the middle of 1999.

Following that, Intel will build support for 1394 into its chipsets, he added. "That will happen within the next 18 months," Russell said.

The Digital Display Initiative, rolled out today, will work to publish its design specifications by the first quarter 1999. One of the chief aims of the group will be to eliminate the analog bridge that exists between a digital monitor and a computer.

Currently, digital information from a computer is converted to analog data, and then reconverted to digital so that it can be seen on flat-panel digital displays. Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and others are participating in the effort.

On another front, the WTX workstation effort is targeted at setting out specifications for designing one- or two-processor workstations using the Xeon or upcoming Merced processors. Workstations made according to the specifications will share thermal characteristics and support the AGP Pro graphics cards. Workstations based around the design will come out in 1999.

Another effort--the Intelligent Platform Management Interface--will seek to develop interfaces for monitoring temperature, voltage, and other components on a server. The second version of the Wired For Management specifications, which outline methods for remotely controlling PCs, were also released at the conference.

Efforts are also underway to make consumer PCs easier to use and easier to turn on. Under the Instantly Available initiative, manufacturers are trying to develop computers that will be completely operational five seconds after the on button is pushed.

With these new designs, older legacy technology will be faded out. Over the next 18months, for instance, Gelsinger said that Intel wanted to see the elimination of age-old ISA bus technology--still used in some PCs today though it was introduced more than a decade ago. "ISA has become a barrier for the platform," Gelsinger said.

Gelsinger also took a jab at Apple's iMac. Showing off a burnt orange version of the "Aztec," a ziggurat-shaped modular PC prototype displayed at the conference, Gelsinger encouraged PC vendors to start producing more interesting looking computers similar to the Aztec prototype.

"Any color but beige or ugly, translucent blue is fine with me," he said.

(Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)