This year, larger LCD screens on portable computers will rule

Flat-panel LCD displays have transistors built right into the screen from cheap,
amorphous silicon splattered on the glass. They aren't very good transistors, but they do
the job.


The active-matrix class of LCD displays has behind-the-screen control circuits made of
slices of crystalline silicon, just like memory and other chips.


Polysilicon, whose electrical properties lie between those of the amorphous and
crystalline forms, can handle both display and control jobs. It simplifies manufacture by
eliminating the need to bond two kinds of transistors.


Polysilicon is already in use for small camcorder screens, but a low-temperature
process now makes it practical for larger LCD screens that should cost and weigh less,
work faster, consume less power and show brighter images.


Look for polysilicon to start showing up in high-end notebooks this year.


I was glad I didn't tout lithium polymer batteries as a big deal for 1997, because they
haven't lived up to their promise. Lithium-ion notebook batteries will continue to
dominate the market in 1998. The lithium polymer kind, though smaller, lighter and more
powerful, are prone to catastrophic failures and harder to build.


As far as I know, no maker has yet shipped a production notebook with lithium polymer
batteries.


If you want your notebook to run longer on a charge, load it with only the required
amount of memory or processor speed. More is not necessarily better on the road.


This time next year, you likely could order a 233-MHz Pentium II notebook for about
$2,100. If you're in the high-end notebook market, it looks like an Intel year. Intel
Corp.'s competitors can't seem to match it in the low-power arena yet.


I wrote last January that we should see 1.2G hard drives for less than $100 by the end
of 1997. No one is making 1G drives anymore, and few 1.2G drives are being sold, but I
just ran across a 1.6G Quantum Corp. Fireball drive with 10-millisecond access time for
$159.


Low-end drives will cost between $120 and $250. Manufacturers don't want to sell them
for less, but capacity will keep rising at that price. I doubt many drives with less than
2G capacity will be on the market by year's end. Look for the standard low-end PC to sport
a minimum 2G to 3G drive.


The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' 1394 specification, known as
FireWire, will get a boost from Adaptec Inc.'s introduction of two 25-megabit/sec adapter
boards. FireWire potentially could replace parallel and serial ports for operating
printers, scanners and even hard drives.


FireWire speeds eventually could reach 200 megabits/sec over distances up to 70 meters.
The first PCI-bus Adaptec boards will download images from digital still and video
cameras. Adaptec's Ultra 8945 has a 40-megabit/sec SCSI port.


I think 1998 will see the first rush of FireWire peripherals, but it won't really catch
on until 1999 or 2000 and then only if PC companies start making FireWire ports standard
in most of their new machines.


Interest in 100-megabit/sec Ethernet should bring even bigger price cuts for Fast
Ethernet switches, which have plummeted recently from about $750 to $250. Intel's 24-port
Express 510T 10/100-megabit/sec switch costs about $200 per port.


Look for Wavelet compression technology to give Motion Picture Experts Group
compression a run for its money in 1998. Wavelet compresses images at ratios of 300:1
compared with MPEG's 30:1 to 100:1.


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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