Magazine article Information Today

Hardware Components in Multimedia PCs

Magazine article Information Today

Hardware Components in Multimedia PCs

Article excerpt

In my last column, I discussed why IBM and compatible PCs with Windows 95 are the best choice for both an entry-level and a power computer for those who want to run mainstream productivity applications and multimedia CD-ROM databases while also enjoying Web sites sporting audio and video files. What recently happened at Apple Computer just reinforces my feeling that the Mac is not a wise choice.

According to industry news, Apple CEO Gil Amelio was fired after the company posted a more than $1.5 billion loss under his management, and in a year Apple's share of the worldwide personal computer market dropped to 3 percent from a not-too-impressive 6 percent. Not surprisingly, Apple shareholders saw a similar declining trend in their portfolio reports. While Apple fans remain impressively devoted to their brand, Apple licensees and dealers seem to hear the gospel of diversification.

What has not happened on the Net Computer (NC) platform also reinforces the wisdom of sticking to the IBM-compatible and Windows platforms. You'll notice, by the way, that I did not say Intel platform, as you don't necessarily have to have "Intel Inside."

One of the advantages of writing a monthly column is that it allows me to be fairly current and to see how certain recommendations and predictions play out in the market. Sometimes, however, not even the monthly frequency can guarantee currency. You may recall that in the July/August issue I recommended the Compaq Presario 2100 for $999 as an entry-level PC. On July 1, Compaq announced the Presario 2200 not only for 20 percent less but with a more appealing-though rather odd-180-MHz processor. Should I throw ashes on my head? I don't think so. I wrote the piece in April, and in our industry, prices change faster than prime ministers do in Italy. Furthermore, I wasn't simply playing with other people's money; I followed my own advice and bought the Presario 2100 for my home use.

Do I regret it? Just a little, and therein lies the moral of this column. While Compaq beefed up the processor, it replaced the 2. 1-GB hard drive with a 1.6GB one, and the 24 MB of RAM with 16 MB. You have to look at all the components of a multimedia PC to know if you have made a good deal. You need to know the implications of having certain components and what impact they have on performance from the multimedia perspective. This necessitates a close look at the components.

Processor and System Architecture

Today you can hardly buy a computer without a Pentium processor, or a Pentium-compatible processor. Its speed, however, may range between 75 MHz and 266 MHz. For a low-end PC, the 133MHz processor is my recommended minimum. It does not have to be a Pentium. AMD and, particularly, Cyrix processors have proved their compatibility and power parity with Intel processors-at significantly lower prices. The 180-MHz processor in the Compaq Presario is undoubtedly faster than the original 133MHz processor, and it shows in decompressing video files. The Cyrix Media GX processor with a 16-K internal cache and 64-bit graphics accelerator is about $250 to $300 less than the approximately equivalent 166-MHz genuine Intel processor, and this is one of the keys to the low price.

The other is the chip-level handling of the graphics, audio, and input/output (I/O) functions with the help of its companion chip. This means that if you open the box you won't find the traditional audio and video controller and I/O expansion card, as all these functions are built into the dual chips. In turn, this means it has a small footprint and is lightweight. The entire box looks like and weighs about as much as a VCR. The only drawback of this compact design is that there are no free expansion slots, let alone free drive bays to add a controller card or a tape back-up drive. These days, however, many add-on devices also come in a parallel port version, so the lack of expandability is not as serious as it may sound. …

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