Small and wireless are hot trends

'The magic of the chip, the magic of software, is spreading out to new areas in different ways.'

'Bill Gates

Olivier Douliery

Dell's Axim X5 Pocket PC, priced below $300, has a 3.5-inch color display.

LAS VEGAS'The computer industry's annual tribal gathering at Comdex last month was decidedly low-key, but the industry slump hasn't stopped innovation.

Besides ultraminiature digital cameras and Universal Serial Bus storage devices, there were plenty of enterprise-level offerings.

Calpont Corp. showed a prototype of a radically different database management system in hardware. President Valerie Borthwick, a former Oracle Corp. executive, said the Rockwell, Texas, company's Novare HDB promises a 100-fold increase in system performance and eliminates the complexity of the typical enterprise DBMS' layers of optimizing software.

Ready next fall, Novare HDB will comprise an application server, a DBMS engine card and 112G of storage, all in a 19-inch rackmount card cage. It will emulate IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Oracle databases plus a superset of a half-dozen languages based on Structured Query Language. No software licenses are required.

Wireless technology also continued to evolve at a fast pace at Comdex.

Although the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers hasn't yet certified the 802.11g standard, 'it's 90 percent there,' said Jeff Abramowitz, senior director of wireless LAN marketing for chip maker Broadcom Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif. The IEEE 802.11g amalgam is designed to provide 802.11a's 54-Mbps bandwidth over 802.11b's 2.4-GHz frequency. Several California vendors'Linksys Group, D-Link Systems Inc. and SMC Networks Inc., all of Irvine, NetGear Inc. of Santa Clara and Proxim Corp. of Sunnyvale'all announced 802.11g access points.

Meanwhile, tried-and-true 802.11b showed up in Hewlett-Packard's new $699 h5400 iPaq handheld computer. Many vendors promised 802.11b-enabled solid state memory for multifunction devices that have a single CompactFlash Card slot.

Proxim's AP2500 two-radio access point will let organizations give visitors Internet access without compromising security. Ken Haase, director of product marketing, said the AP2500 uses dynamic address translation to translate a visitor's static IP address to an IP address assigned by the access point. Intended for lobbies and conference rooms, the $1,095 device can be configured with two 802.11b radios or one 802.11a and one 802.11b radio to separate visitors by frequency.

Vendors also demonstrated a new wireless LAN security protocol known as WiFi Protected Access. WPA over the next year will replace the Wired Equivalent Privacy protocol, which vendors universally derided for poor security.

Dorothy Stanley, a system architect for chip maker Agere Systems Inc. of Allentown, Pa., said interoperability testing of WPA-equipped products will start in February. Among WPA's features is a provision for unique encryption keys for each data packet, as opposed to a single key shared by many users for each transmission.

Bundle up

In the handheld arena, Palm Inc.'s new Tungsten devices got an enterprise boost from GoAmerica Communications Corp. Palm will bundle the Hackensack, N.J., company's GoWeb in its latest handhelds, said Aaron Dobrinsky, GoAmerica's chairman and chief executive officer.

GoWeb can encrypt data and deliver enterprise applications to wireless devices via public networks. Decryption occurs on the user's device. Dobrinsky said several federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, use the technology to securely Web-enable apps.

The long-awaited Axim X5 handheld from Dell Computer Corp., running the Microsoft Pocket PC operating system, made its debut against Palm OS and HP iPaq handhelds. Axim versions are priced at $199 and $299 after a $50 rebate, which Dell officials said they plan to continue indefinitely.

The high-end Axim has a 400-MHz Intel XScale processor, 64M of synchronous dynamic RAM and 48M of Intel StrataFlash ROM. The entry-level Axim has a 300-MHz processor with 32M of RAM and 32M of ROM. Both have CompactFlash Type II and Secure Digital Card slots. The standard battery is designed to provide power for 10 hours of typical use. There are two slots on the synchronizing cradle to charge an extra battery along with the handheld.

The Axim has no integrated wireless capability, though it could be added through the expansion slots. Dell officials said that next year's Axim X7 might have integrated Bluetooth and IEEE 802.11b wireless connectivity.

Representatives of Motion Computing Inc. of Austin, Texas, tossed their M1200 Tablet PC back and forth to demonstrate its ruggedness. The 3-pound, Microsoft Windows XP system suffered no damage inside a magnesium-alloy case. The pen, called an active digitizer, works without battery power.

This cradle rocks

The 866-MHz unit has an integrated Unified Memory Architecture graphics chip set. A proprietary sensor in the docking cradle automatically switches the LCD's orientation between portrait and landscape modes, and it can be dropped into the cradle while still running. The M1200 starts around $2,099 with a Mobile Pentium III-M processor, 256M of RAM, a 20G hard drive and an embedded antenna for wireless 802.11b connectivity through a Mini PCI interface.

As for new desktop hardware, MicronPC LLC of Nampa, Idaho, showed off new Millennia desktop PCs running Windows XP and powered by either Intel Corp. or Advanced Micro Devices Inc. processors.

The $2,000 Millennia 910i has an Athlon XP2800 processor, 512M of SDRAM, an 80G hard drive, a 64M nVidia nForce2 graphics card and a 15-inch LCD. The 3.06-GHz Pentium 4 counterpart, the Millennia 910a, has only 256M of RAM but a faster 533-MHz front-side bus.

Most of the new storage peripherals at Comdex were for the fast Universal Serial Bus 2.0 ports because of its 480-Mbps maximum transfer rate and ease of setup.

IOgear Inc. of Irvine, Calif., showed USB Bluetooth Class 3 key chains capable of transmitting Bluetooth wireless signals 330 feet between devices. That's more than twice the range of many 802.11b wireless products.

Keynoter Bill Gates said the computer industry is getting its momentum back by innovating in new areas.

'The magic of the chip, the magic of software, is spreading out to new areas in different ways,' he said, predicting a shift from personal computers to truly personal computing that's available wherever people need it.

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above