Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Intel Processor Based Systems: Buying Today, Planning for Tomorrow

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Intel Processor Based Systems: Buying Today, Planning for Tomorrow

Article excerpt

If you work in the Intel-based, IBM-workalike, MS-DOS and Windows environment, you know that there are a bewildering number of central processors available to build your system. The high end is now defined by the 486DX2-66, the low end by the 386SX-20. In between there are a host of alternatives from both Intel and their competitors. Which is right for your desktop?

For years readers of Computers in Libraries running MS-DOS were advised to buy 386-based PCs. More recently it's been 486s. If you've taken our advice, you have a 386 (or a relatively new 486), but that 386 might be several years old, and you may be wondering if it's really fast enough to meet your needs today and tomorrow.

If you decide it's not, does it make sense to upgrade system components in light of the continuing downward spiral in complete system costs? After all, if a new 486 from a first tier company like IBM costs under $2,000 (the PS/ValuePoint is $1,995), how much do you want to invest in an old one?

And what about tomorrow? Well before the end of the year, computer vendors will be offering PCs based on Intel's Pentium CPU, the 586/P5 with a name that can be copyrighted. It will be compatible with your current machine but performance will be immensely improved. Of course, PCs based on the Pentium will carry a premium price when first released. Once again we'll have to answer the twin questions of just how much desktop power is enough and at what price.

Why Intel?

Intel-based PCs have held the lion's share of the desktop market for years. Leading system sales are the 386SX systems at 30 percent. Following closely are the 386DX systems at 29 percent. Other systems sharing the market include the 486DX (16%), the 68XXX (12%), the 486SX (5%), the 286 (5%), and others (3%). (Estimates of desktop sales in 1992 are provided by PC/Computing, January 1993, p. 176.) Unfortunately, these figures are somewhat misleading because they only show sales totals for the whole year. By all accounts, 486s were an even larger percentage of sales at year's end.

Productivity

Although the title of this article is "Intel Processor-Based Systems: Buying Today, Planning for Tomorrow," we're really talking about productivity, and more specifically, about improving productivity on the desktop. With that in mind, the three most important things you can do fight now to get more work done are to learn to type, to read your software manuals, and to erase all games.

More seriously, software can bring major productivity improvements or stave off hardware expenditures. For example, the best things that can happen to a hard disk are optimizing and caching software. A spooler can return control to you quickly even during the largest printing job. And if Joe down the hall can't write, spending money on exotic hardware won't help, but a grammar checker might.

In addition, take advantage of what you already have. For example, DOS 5.0 comes with an undelete program while Windows 3.1 has system diagnostics (MSD.EXE) as well as diskcaching software in the form of SmartDrive.

DOS 6.0 will include improved memory management, disk compression, virus protection, and better backup. All are important, and in the case of disk compression, may save the price of a hard disk. I can't wait to put DOS 6.0 on my notebook computer, mostly to double its storage capacity to 120MB.

Let me complete this Introduction by mentioning data. Hardware and software are fun to talk and write about, but what's most important is data, not the software that manipulates it, or the hardware that the software runs on. Your real investment is in data files and that means you need a plan for data backup.

If your hard disk fails, you can always reinstall your software from the original disks. Can you rebuild your data files as easily right now?

CPU Evolution

To make sense of the major classes of Intel CPUs, let's look at the key features of the 80386, the 80486, and the Pentium (80586). …

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