Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Choice Is the Word for a Computer's CPU

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Choice Is the Word for a Computer's CPU

Article excerpt

Keeping up with computers is like keeping up with wine. You have to learn about new brands, varieties and vintages. There's at least one major difference, of course: Better wines improve with age, while even a good computer seems out of date almost immediately after you buy it.

No component is more important than your central processing unit, or CPU for short. The CPU is the microprocessor, or computer chip, that serves as the major brains of your PC. From the 486 to the Pentium to the soon-to-appear PowerPC, powerful chips are making computing faster and, with the right software and hardware, will make it easier. But confusion is growing along with the choices.

We're heading into an era when you'll be able to buy PCs that run the same software but use different central processors. You'll buy a machine based first on price and its ability to rip through your most important tasks, and second, because it runs your other software.

A little history: IBM used Intel Corp.'s 8088 chip as the CPU for its first PCs in the early- to mid-1980s. Next came the Intel 80286, which powered IBM's AT computers and IBM clones from other manufacturers. Then came the 80386 and 80486. All have been cloned or copied by competitors.

Apple's Macintosh CPU, meanwhile, has been based from the beginning on chips made by Motorola. The series began with the 68000 a decade ago. In the top of the current Mac line, you'll find Motorola's 68040. Apple's computers haven't been cloned, for a variety of reasons, including fierce patent and copyright protection.

Intel has drilled itself into the public consciousness with smart advertising. You undoubtedly know the slogan "Intel Inside." Certainly, you're safe if you buy a computer with an Intel CPU. But you do have other choices.

The IBM-compatible world is swimming in choices. Dataquest, a market-analysis firm, says about 73 percent of all IBM-compatible PCs shipped last year had Intel chips. Others used processors from Cyrix or Advanced Micro Devices or IBM itself. You can't go wrong if you buy your computer from a major manufacturer such as IBM, Compaq, AST, Hewlett-Packard, Dell or other mainstream companies. Clonemaker Compaq just signed a deal to use Advanced Micro's chips in some computers.

The big differences in today's 486 chips - and clones - are less about which company makes them than how fast they run, how much power they consume, and whether they include a co-processor that speeds up certain mathematical tasks.

Now Intel is ramping up sales of its high-end Pentium line - successor to the 486 line - dropping prices and promoting the chips to manufacturers and consumers alike. One reason is that the company is feeling some heat from more than just the clone crowd. A new batch of chips has emerged. The most notable is the PowerPC, designed and manufactured jointly by Apple, IBM and Motorola to run a new generation of machines. …

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