As hardware value increases, prices go down, down, down

TigerDirect sells fully loaded 200-MHz systems with IBM Corp.'s Pentium-equivalent 6x86
chip for less than $1,000, including monitor and color printer. That's one sign of the
price deflation going on concurrently with value inflation now in computer hardware.

Even industry giant Compaq Computer Corp., apparently having decided that Intel Inside
doesn't matter much in sub-$1,000 PCs, builds them with clone chips from Advanced Micro
Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., or Cyrix Corp. of Richardson, Texas.

Stock market gurus on television have enthused over Compaq's plans to put Cyrix and AMD
chips in some of its new computers. I've seen such models advertised for months.

Just how Intel has reacted to this defection by its largest customer is unclear, but
considering the attention drawn by the government's antitrust case against Microsoft
Corp., Intel is unlikely to make much noise. After all, it holds nearly 80 percent of its

Every time I turn around, IBM announces a doubling of hard-drive capacity. Another
hard-drive advance has gotten far less publicity.

IBM and Seagate Technology Inc. of Scotts Valley, Calif., both announced
10,000-revolution-per-minute drives late last year. They were first targeted for the
server market, but by midyear you can expect to see 9G, 10,000-rpm drives with incredible
access times and fast transfer rates in high-end PCs.

And just when IDE and Enhanced IDE were destined to become the drive interfaces of
choice, SCSI is making news again.

UltraSCSI and later Ultra versions come in both narrow and wide varieties with 20- and
40-megabyte/sec transfer rates straddling EIDE's capacity. That performance increase comes
at the price of limited expandability and shorter cable runs.

Ultra2 SCSI can hit 40 megabytes/sec to 80 megabytes/sec using low voltage differential
signals that send several data bytes simultaneously over a maximum 33-foot cable run.

Ultra3 SCSI is in the works at the standards committees. It promises to carry 80
megabytes/sec to 160 megabytes/sec by doubling the amount of information in each signal

Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop, a server-only drive interface, carries 100 megabytes/sec
to the latest 10,000-rpm IBM drives, which also support Ultra SCSI.

The Universal Serial Bus can handle many of what usually are considered SCSI devices,
such as CD-ROM drives and scanners, but the difference is that it supports up to 127
devices daisychained from a single port. You can even add or detach peripherals while the
system is running.

Many PCs have been shipped with a USB port, but the USB peripherals aren't readily
available yet, so whether USB will catch on is still debatable.

CD-recordable drives have come down in price a bit, and more importantly, the cost of
raw, blank media has fallen below $1 to $2 per disk in quantity. That's only
two-hundredths of a cent per megabyte stored--a remarkable fact that slashes the cost of
in-house CD-ROM publishing below that of service bureau replication in large quantities.

Need fast, cheap storage? Just fill the first 500M of a CD-R with junk, then store
important data near the edge, where you can take advantage of the maximum read speed on
new 32X CD-ROM drives.

As for getting up to speed on tape backup, we already have quarter-inch cartridge tape,
digital audio tape, digital linear tape, advanced intelligent tape and Travan tape in
various flavors.

There's even a red-herring tape format, unveiled by Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM and
Seagate last November.

The trio announced a cutting-edge tape storage standard but gave no technical details
and apparently has not yet submitted the new technology to a standards body. I'll let you
know when I find out the name.

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

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