Never fear, upgrades for newest systems advances are coming

Reader Jim Pratt of Fort McCoy, Wis., recently e-mailed me. "I have yet to see or
hear anything to suggest Intel will offer an upgrade chip for the 200-MHz Pentium
Pro," he wrote. "Now that 333-MHz Pentium IIs are out there, we Pentium Pro
owners are feeling a little neglected. Can you shed any light on this situation?"


Yes, I can. Intel Corp. has announced it will release a Pentium II OverDrive processor
this year for upgrading Pentium Pro systems that comply with Intel's Socket 8
specification. Upgradeable systems based on 150- and 180-MHz Pentium Pros can go to
300-MHz processors, and systems with 166- and 200-MHz Pentium Pros can go to 333-MHz
processors.


Whether the new OverDrive chips will be worth the money and trouble to install is
another question. But an upgrade that doubles the clock rate ought to have a significant
effect on throughput.


Based on Intel's information, I don't know what other enhancements will be incorporated
beyond the big megahertz boost. We'll have to wait and see how much faster the upgraded
computers will run multimedia applications or Microsoft Windows NT.


Speaking of chips, Digital Equipment Corp. is still planning to produce Alpha
processors even as it's about to be consumed by Compaq Computer Corp. A 600-MHz Alpha is
due this summer, and a 1-gigahertz version is planned for before 2000. That's just in time
for the millennium, so we can watch year 2000 problems happen even faster.


As for Apple Macintosh chip upgrades, look at the World Wide Web sites of Newer
Technology Inc. of Wichita, Kan., at http://www.newertech.com,
and Sonnet Technologies Inc. of Irvine, Calif., at http://www.sonnettech.com,
for news about their respective MaxPower G3 and Sonnet Crescendo CPU upgrades, also coming
soon.


These new processors will bring early Power Macs up to today's performance levels for
much less than the price of a new Macintosh.


Getting back to Intel, the most we can buy right now for our desktops are 333-MHz
Pentium IIs. Notebooks have a 266-MHz speed limit. But at the low end, Intel plans a
sub-$125, 266-MHz Pentium II microprocessor this fall. The chip savings will come at the
expense of cache, but sub-$1,000 business desktop PCs will be a reality before fall, at
only a small sacrifice in speed.


Don't say goodbye to performance, though, because Intel also plans a cheap, 300-MHz
Pentium II with integral cache.


Put these low-priced chips together with falling prices for memory and hard drives, and
we could see $1,500 computers fleshed out with 64M of memory and 6G drives. They won't be
sluggish, bargain-basement machines but 300-MHz powerhouses ready for all but the most
demanding workstation applications.


The high-end, $4,000 desktop PC will still be around, probably sporting 10G of storage
and 128M of RAM. A 400-MHz Pentium is on the horizon.


It brings into focus how fast and far we've come in the last few years. Try cranking up
new software on a 33-MHz 486 with 4M RAM and single-speed CD-ROM drive, or on a 66-MHz
Pentium PC with 16M RAM, SCSI-2 port and 500M SCSI hard drive.


When people ask me which computer to buy, I tell home users, "Tell me how much you
want to spend, and I'll show you the best value." Office buyers who know what they
want to run and can decide where to shave money get a different answer.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.


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