Happy New Year.
Well, it was a pretty quiet year end this year. No major
announcements to look at, no major companies going under, and no
major viruses to watch out for. Of course, I considered the Tablet
PC as a major new technology but you know what, it has been around
for years and maybe this time, they will get it right. For major
companies, naturally, who counts Enron? Anderson Consulting might be
considered in that category depending on how many new technology
startups were counting on their help to launch or go public.
But Comdex was about more of the same with a lot of DVD
software creation packages, more networking products, and a few
bright spots like Intel’s unveiling of a P4 chip at over 3
gigahertz speed that uses a new technology called Hyper-Threading,
the future is closer than we think. Check it out on their web site
Comdex Fall 2002
I had a wish
list two months ago when I headed off to Comdex this year and while
several companies are tinkering into these areas, no one has really
come close to filling them. Not surprising as the show was quite a
bit smaller than in recent years and even had less exhibitors than
last year. When a company like Zone Labs becomes a major sponsor,
and major giver of nice briefcases, you begin to wonder where this
show is going. Now don’t misunderstand me, I think the world of
the company and products Zone Alarm, but where were the IBM’s,
Dells, Compaq’s (sorry HPQs), Toshibas, Symantec’s, and the rest
of the big companies. Microsoft had their usually large presence but
when I started to walk around the booths, most of their consumer
products were hard to find and the ton of add on companies in the
past were missing as well.
So, did I think
it was a bust of a show, not by a long shot. In fact, for me to find
what I am looking for, the small side events like Digital/Mobile
Focus, Show Stoppers, Pat Meier’s lunches and the private meetings
where the places to be to see what is really going on at the show.
So what follows are the things that stood out to me and so
made it into my bag as I cruised the show.
IBM has always
been one of my favorite companies to pick on. They have great
products and services but always seem to be a bit off when bringing
them to market. One example is the decision recently to get out of
the desktop market for personal computers. But if you go on their
web site, you will see all sorts of desktops being developed and
sold. Same holds true for their diving into the Linux world. AT
Comdex, they held a press conference supporting United Linux as the
product to lead Linux into the next generations, http://www.unitedlinux.com/
but also on their web page suggest if you want to start with Linux,
go with the Red Hat version.
A lot of
products were merely updates from older versions and on the hardware
side, this becomes more important now that the flat panel screens
have had a jump in quality. One such screen is from BenQ,
www.benq.com (an Acer company) the model FP591. It is bright at 500
nits (cd/m2) compared to the usual screen brightness of 200-250, and
it has a higher contrast ratio of 450:1 compared to the usual of
350:1. And if that is not enough to convince you, the refresh rate
is a blistering 16ms compared to the usual 30ms. What that means is
it is truly a sharp bright and fast screen and sets the standards
for LCD screens to come. And did I mention the built in speakers?
This 15 inch model is not cheap at $499 but if you will spend a lot
of time in front of your screen, look at this one.
Want a computer
with a hybrid liquid cooling system, near silent operation,
incredible graphics, and so much power that you could launch a
satellite? Voodoo is a Canadian company at www.voodoopc.com that has
really come up with some huge horsepower computers for gamers and
those of us that just want a machine that is truly cooler than the
rest. Computer Gaming
World, the authority on this stuff according to my nephew Curtis,
gave it a 5
Stars Editor's Choice in their November 2002 issue and also referred
to it as "The Ferrari of Gaming PCs". These are not for
the feint of wallet as each machine is built to your specifications
but boy are they fast.
The show was
full of DVD authoring and writing software and hardware and this is
a technology that is creeping up on us. DVD drives have been around
for a long time and on the home consumer front, are really making a
dent in the market for folks who just rent or buy movies. The
problem is that for the computer side, they are still wrangling as
to what DVD re-writable format will be the one supported by the
industry. A good site
for information on the subject is Verbatim’s at www.verbatim.com.
As a manufacturer of everything related to media, they are a good
source to find out what is what in this field. When looking at their
web site, look under the “support” pages. Speaking of Verbatim,
they had one of the coolest things at the show (at least for those
of us who remember vinyl 45s) and that was a Digital Vinyl CD-R
One of the
things I like about going to these kinds of shows is to see the
companies that are market leaders in a field that you never hear
about. Planar, www.planar.com, is one such company and the maker of
LCD screens. What I like immediately about these is the faith that
the company has in their products by offering a three year warranty
with 2 day air replacement. They are bright, great contrast, fast
response and a very good buy. PC Connection, one of my favorite
internet ordering houses, www.pcconnection.com sells their 15 inch
model for $270.
www.Maxtor.com, the hard drive makers has a new One Touch backup
system that is an external hard drive connected via USB cable and
software to make backing up your system much easier. The One Touch
comes in sizes up to 250GB and with the software really makes
backing up your system a snap. The 250 drive is only $399 and comes
in Firewire and USB2.0 versions. CMS Products, www.cmsproducts.com
also makes a similar drive and theirs connects to your computer via
USB as well as Firewire and PCMCIA. Their ABS (Automatic Backup
System) is a bit pricier in that the 60GB version for USB2.0 sells
for $499. Another alternative is from companies like Belkin,
www.belkin.com who sell the enclosures so that you add in your own
hard drive. With the built in USB connection, you add your own
drive, your own backup software, and you are on your way. For around
$110. Last I looked, the WD 180GB drive was around $329 and you
probably don’t need a drive that big.
Positioning Satellite) Systems have been out for quite a while and I
really thought that this year would be the year to show off the
technology but there really weren’t that many companies out there
on the floor. Notably missing was Garmin, TravRoute, and Delorme
among others. What was there were a couple of interesting products.
One is from Pharos, www.pharosgps.com, who make GPS systems
primarily for Pocket PC systems but can also connect to notebook
computers. What I like so much about their systems is that if you
want to take the GPS out with you, there is the Compact Flash (CF)
GPS unit you just plug into your PDA and go. About $249.
Another company I found sells the GPS unit for the PDA
without any software which means you have to provide your own like
Microsoft Streets and Trips. Rayming, www.rayming.com will provide
the CF GPS unit for around $159.
There were a
lot of interesting things at Comdex but honestly, nothing that
really made you sit back and say I really got to have it. Well,
maybe a couple of those huge plasma digital screens, but lets keep
back to reasonable stuff. PC Magazine always has their “Best of
Comdex” awards and so you can go to their web site to see what
they thought was it: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,4149,716651,00.asp.
Top award went to Microsoft’s Windows XP Tablet PC Operating
System. To me, that tells me much about the fact that this show was
more about improvements in products rather than startling new
technologies. The hardware winner was a Viewsonic Airpanel V150
wireless display and the top software product was Corel’s
Grafigo Tablet PC collaboration utility.
And speaking of
super performance, Nvidia Corporation has unveiled their latest
video chips and cards and wow, they are something to see.
www.nvidia.com will give you a glimpse of what they look like and
what they are capable of doing. The nvidia geForce FX Graphics
Processor Unit (GPU) really brings some world class video
capabilities to the home computer. What they tell us it will bring
is real time cinematic quality graphics and special effects to the
desktop PC. What helps to propel this power needed is an onboard 1
Gigahertz DDR II graphics memory. What this does is to allow you to
push higher bandwidth across the video card allowing for faster
frame rates, higher color depth, and higher resolutions than with
other high end video cards. Not being a gamer, I can’t get quite
that excited but here is one good quote from the technical director
at Legend, Mark Poesch: “this really is that step where it goes
from being a vision of how cool things can be, to being able to
actually prove that we can make it real now.”
Technically, it features a .13 micron manufacturing process,
is AGP 8X, and you can even program in its own high level
programming language, Cg. With
the color processing technology available in the chip, you
wouldn’t believe how real it makes the shadows on objects. The GPU
which has 125 million transistors on board, runs at an amazing 500
Megahertz so it is faster than still most computers out there today.
To keep it cool, they have incorporated a fan and a thermal air
intake system for it. Really cool stuff. Look for the card with the
geForce FX unit sometime later in 2003.
While at the
nVidia event, their president Jen-Hsun Huang talked about the future
of home computing and expects to see laptops in the home in the
future. He also sees that all the technology will be TCP/IP aware
for networking, and that consumers will be accumulating an enormous
amount of digital media content. What this means is the need for
quite a bit of storage on the home network to handle the multiple
computers and all the content. It was interesting that he termed
movies like Terminator2 and Toy Story as the pioneers of this
“dawn of cinematic computing”. He says to make the graphics
work, you have to be able to render images in less than 1/60th
of a second. They have a couple of demo’s on their web site that
show what they can do with the shading and it is remarkable. At the
rollout, they were able to show the movies that made those demos and
then to rotate it from different angles to show how the shading
works. In one demo of a pickup truck in a barn, they show it aging
in time as the clip goes on.
And Maybe Next Time around…
Estari, www.estari.com has put together a dual touch screen notebook
with two 13 or 15 inch screens attached to each other. It starts at
around $4000 but when I saw the display, it looked no where near as
nice as the picture in the brochure. Using an onscreen keyboard, or
touch pad or wireless mouse to get around, it certainly has some
Technologies www.via.com.tw is getting close to the mark with their
Hi-Fi PC Convergence design which is a single unit that will act as
both a personal computer and multi-media entertainment device. Now
where they come even closer to the mark is their efforts to
encourage beyond the box thinking from designers using their new
EPIA series of mainboards, which are very small in form factor and
very inclusive in connectivity. You can look at these including the
very cool gas can PC at www.via.com.tw/en/VInternet/projects.jsp
A lot of Plasma
Monitors were also on the show and the news from Fujitsu might be
interesting. They were showing off their 50 inch Slimscreen monitor
model PDS-5003 and boy is it sharp. It boasts a 3000:1 contrast
ratio (compared to most LCD panels of 350:1), and a brightness of
500 nits or cd/m2 compared to the normal screens 250. What is also
interesting is if you visit their web site, they tell you that all
bets are off on the warranty if you buy it over the internet or
through a “non-authorized” dealer because these screens require
“an extensive amount of pre and post sale support, support that
cannot be adequately provided over the internet”. Does that mean
they need a lot of repair. Besides that, the cost will also set you
back $13,000. Take a look at www.plasmavision.com/.
companies were selling products to keep your computer cool. Some
were nothing more than case fans that you add in (and some had
really cool lights on them), some were replacement CPU Fans with
some bells and whistles to either make it run quieter or push more
air, and then some were a combination of thermostat and a case fan
that comes on and off depending on the inside temperature. Active
Cool, www.activecool.com is an interesting concept to try out. It
starts with a thermal electric device and fan that sits on the CPU
itself. In fact, if you run it unmounted on a chip, it gets very
cold and ices up! Besides the chip cooler, it also includes a PCI
card that is also a cooling controller to help cool the inside of
the case and it connects to the case fan as well. With a separate AC
power supply for the PCI card, it keeps going even if the computer
shuts down. About $120.
ago, I picked up an inexpensive digital camera at Comdex from a new
company called Largan. www.largan.com. It was the beginning of the
really cheap camera and unfortunately with this first one, you got
what you paid for. Since then, I have been looking at the low end
cameras to see if one can become worth buying and they have come out
with a new model that is 3.3 megapixel with a 4X zoom. So I can’t
wait to get my hands on it to see how it really does. Stay tuned.
for backup systems is something like DiskOnKey, www.diskonkey.com
that is a 512mb storage in a small USB based unit. They are
expensive with the 512MB version going for $399 but it gives you a
very small go anywhere storage option.
Unfortunately, easy to loose as a friend has found out.
Linux and IBM above being an odd mix but they are in the middle of
this new Linux release that has just come out. United Linux,
www.unitedlinux.com, is an attempt to give the industry a standard
Linux to choose from. With sponsors like IBM and HP, it should
garner a lot of attention despite the fact I mentioned above that on
IBM’s web site, they recommend using Red Hat Linux. This product
is the creation of the four Linux systems that are from The SCO
Group (formerly Caldera), SuSE Linux AG, Turbolinux, Inc., and
Conectiva S.A. What they hope to gain from this is a stable, secure,
and reliable Linux version. Not being a unix or Linux person myself,
I had always avoided these operating systems simply because there
were so many of them and so finding software for them was not an
easy task. These companies hope that by joining forces and
presenting a combined effort and simplified Unix system, they might
be able to take Linux beyond the fragmented universe it is today.
And how fragmented is that, at last count, there were over 100
different version of Linux. No wonder major applications makers are
hesitant to jump into the fray. What is also interesting is that of
these four companies, Conectiva S.A. is from Spain and SuSE Linux AG
is from Germany, and TurboLinux, Inc. is a Japanese company with a
lot of marketing ties to IBM.
The goal of
United Linux is to give us a predictable, quality, and stable Linux
for development that has a wide range of hardware support. This is
important, as with many of the Linux variations out there, a
hardware manufacturer has to develop drivers for each platform.
A couple of
interesting side notes. First of all HP is still hedging their bets
by staying certified on Red Hat, and where is Red Hat and some of
the other common Linux versions? This press conference was held at
1:pm Pacific and was simulcast via conference to Germany where the
time was 10:pm there. The final interesting thing is that when I
went to look for a copy to download, I couldn’t find one so after
20 minutes of searching, I gave up.
Things I didn’t see at Comdex but Wish I Did.
www.roadwired.com has a digital camera bag called the pod. With 20+
compartments and storage nooks it will carry everything for you from
memory cards to batteries to flash to cables to you name it. IN the main compartment, there is even a hammock that you set
your camera in to keep it suspended in the bag! That is truly neat.
Pocket PC Users (and others), you can down download books, manuals,
and even some news services to your computer and then to your hand
held device like the Pocket PC, RIO MP3 player, Handspring Visor,
and more. It is a service you subscribe to so the savings over the
usual books on tape or CD can be significant. www.audible.com
was interesting this year was the number of booths devoted to
encouraging technology companies to move to their locations like
Malaysia, France, Sweden, and Indiana among other places.
haven’t finished your holiday shopping, take a look at all the
cool stuff that Logitech is coming out with. For the more productive
of buyers come cordless keyboards, mice, and trackballs. They also
have a cool variety of web and digital cameras including a cordless
version; accessories for phones and palm PDA devices, and a wide
range of game pads, joysticks, and steering wheels for the gamers.
fingerprint recognition system for your office door? Check out
www.ewaytek.com. Sorry, no prices available yet on these but it
at www.htpcworks.com has a computer just for the RV market. Using
mostly traditional, but small, components, they have built a
computer and entertainment center to go. With this box, you can
connect it to a standard TV or use a flat panel screen to both use
as a computer and television. Built in DVD drive/player, an ATI for
the TV connection, you are all set to go online or watch movies with
this unit. Around $1300 without the monitor.
keep those memory chips cooler? Cooler Master, www.coolermaster.com
has heat sinks that go onto the memory chips themselves to cool them
down. Microsoft came out with a very small optical mouse for use
with notebooks in confined spaces that was cool. Toshiba showed off
a notebook that was only 2.2 pounds and extremely thin; and Logitech
has a pen that might be an engineers dream that remembers everything
you write. It’s called the io!
had a pretty small digital camcorder that weighed in at a mere 3.5
ounces. The SV AV10 uses SD Memory cards, easily fits into a shirt
pocket and can be had for around $399.
see some really cool PC Cases of all sorts? Lian-Li, www.lian-li.com,
has an excellent variety of aluminum cases and accessories. For the
really wild cases, the Taiwan pavilion area had some pretty crazy
things but it seems most were not yet available to us.
the coolest thing I saw at Comdex (besides the Mini Cooper that
Iomega was giving away) was the Duesenberg Roadster at the Mobile
were a lot more things to look at and so you will have to wait for
reviews and first looks later on so let me give you some web sites
to look at. www.creo.com, www.muvee.com, www.iolo.com,
www.pentaware.com, www.cloudmark.com, www.intego.com,
www.reallusion.com, www.mailwasher.net, and more to come.
Robert Sanborn is
an Independent Personal Computer Consultant and a contributing
writer for PC Lifeline and contributing editor for the Indy PC News.
Reach him through the net at firstname.lastname@example.org