Feds take a wait'n'see attitude on MMX

Agencies are in no hurry to buy Pentium MMX PCs.


Several agency users said the applications and the track record do not yet exist to
encourage big buys of Pentium PCs that have Intel Corp.'s new chip set with multimedia
extensions.


Some high-end scientific users plan to use the PCs sooner, but most federal users said
they want to see more administrative applications available before making the investment.


For the time being, eager federal buyers must buy MMX products from the open market
because schedule vendors are just preparing to add the new PCs to their Multiple-Award
Schedule contracts.


A spokeswoman for Gateway 2000 Inc. of North Sioux City, S.D., said MMX products won't
be on its schedule contract until at least June ''We want to make sure we're giving the
government what it wants and that there's appropriate technology to support it,''she said.


Ron Clevenger, federal sales manager for Micron Electronics Inc., said his company
expects to receive General Services Administration approval next month to carry MMX
products on its schedule contract. The Nampa, Idaho, company sold more than $58 million
worth of PCs to the government last year, he said.


Despite a slow start for MMX, vendors will likely seek refreshments to their
indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts in the coming months, said David
Sokolower, Intel's director for federal strategies.


Even though industry analysts say the chip set can improve video, audio and math
processing performance as much as fourfold and perform about 10 percent faster than
same-speed Pentium chips, MMX will most likely slowly seep into the government market.


The MMX PCs cost only about $200 more than those with equivalent Pentium chips. But
only a few high-end users at Energy Department laboratories and NASA seem to have
immediate plans to order them.


Some federal officials pointed out that few software developers have written
applications for the MMX chip set and that it does not run 3-D graphics as well as
specialized graphics chips.


''We need to show it's cost-effective''before deciding to buy, said J. Briscoe
Stephens, advanced scientific information systems coordinator at NASA's Marshall Space
Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.


Through individual buys, Stephens said, some of Marshall's 2,500 high-end users will
get MMX computers for the Mission to Planet Earth, X-ray astronomy and solar engineering.
But the ultimate degree of use will depend on how the systems work for these early
applications.


E.J. ''Jerry''McFaul, a computer scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey said the
Pentium MMX ''would be useful for constructing animated fly-bys with our digital elevation
model data. It could make it more realistic.''


Elsewhere at agencies, however, power users and influential managers voiced caution
about the MMX chip set. ''For my work, it's not absolutely necessary,''said Daniel Cole, a
geographic information systems specialist at the Smithsonian Institution.


With a 133-MHz Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 workstation, a 2G hard drive and 64M of RAM,
Cole said he already gets the performance he needs.


Errick King, a visual information specialist with the Financial Management Service,
said there probably won't be more than ''two or three''MMX systems in the 2,000-employee
Treasury Department unit in the next year. He expects it will be ''two or three more years
before it's widely used at FMS. It all depends on how companies develop business
applications.''


Bill Underwood, IRM chief at the Federal Transit Administration in Washington, said,
''We don't have any need for MMX. We're pretty much a word processing organization.''


The Transportation Department agency has about 100 486 PCs and 400 Pentium PCs,
Underwood said.


''I don't see the application gains that would justify''an upgrade, said David
Goldberg, deputy associate commissioner of IRM at the Immigration and Naturalization
Service. But the service eventually might buy some MMX machines as replacement PCs, he
said.


Bob Kidwell, chief of IRM staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
said he didn't foresee ''any flurry of MMX buying activity,''although the Commerce
Department agency buys about 3,000 PCs each year.


A bigger issue at NOAA is ''the dilemma of where to go--Unix or Intel,''Kidwell added.
The forthcoming Merced chip, from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Intel, will carry instructions
for reduced instruction-set-computing as well as complex instruction-set-computing, he
said. NOAA has more than 1,500 Unix workstations and 13,000 PCs, he said.


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