Intel says "less Is more"

The company long synonymous with faster and more powerful feature-laden chips wants PC makers to make do with less desktop hardware. Intel has embarked on an Ease of Use initiative that encourages PC makers to discard older 'legacy' technology, some of which has been part of the PC since its start in 1981. 'We'd like to see some of the older technology go away, so the PC can evolve more quickly,' says Steve Whalley, PC Initiatives Manager for Intel.

The company long synonymous with faster and more powerful feature-laden chips wants PC makers to make do with less desktop hardware. Intel has embarked on an Ease of Use initiative that encourages PC makers to discard older "legacy" technology, some of which has been part of the PC since its start in 1981.

"We'd like to see some of the older technology go away, [so the PC can evolve more quickly]," says Steve Whalley, PC Initiatives Manager for Intel.

Intel's New Concept

As PC makers transition to new technology, they will have more flexibility in PC design and form factor. Intel created a Concept PC using state-of-the-art components including a 500-MHz prototype P6-type processor. The system looks like a small pyramid (without the point--a DVD drive sits on the top) and is a fraction the size of a minitower case. It has Universal Serial Bus ports for adding peripherals, but none of the older parallel and serial ports that PCs ship with today.

"Until we showed this to OEMs, they didn't get it," says Whalley. "We gave them the green light [to develop new designs]. We have to get to the point where users don't have to open the box up."

Intel is encouraging PC makers to ditch ISA slots in favor of the newer PCI slots used for add-in circuit cards, by the end of next year. Most PC systems today include at least one ISA slot and several PCI slots.

"Computer makers would save about $10 by removing the ISA slot, but there is a more important issue--support costs," says Whalley.

The Intel manager claims ISA support is one of the biggest issues that call centers have to deal with. Also, peripherals such as scanners have a high return rate because users have difficulty installing ISA cards.

At Comdex Intel plans to demonstrate the flexibility of USB by attaching a record of 150 peripherals to one PC.

Floppy Drives and Parallel Ports on Hit List

Looking farther ahead, Intel is pushing for PCs without traditional game, MIDI, PS/2, or serial port connections by the second half of the year 2000. Floppy drives and parallel port connections will be gone by the second half of 2001, if Intel has its way. In their place would be a combination of USB ports and yet be developed "Super I/O" ports that would accommodate various peripherals. The floppy drive, which was already abandoned in Apple's iMac system, would be replaced by a higher capacity removable media such as Iomega Zip or Imation's LS-120 SuperDrive, which reads traditional 3.5-inch disks as well as 120MB media.

Whalley says Intel is working closely with Microsoft on the Ease of Use initiative, which is aimed at attracting more first-time PC buyers. One of the goals is to make PCs start up faster. Although notebook computers have offered a low power, ready access capability for years, it's implemented differently by various manufacturers. Only a few PC makers offer similar capabilities. Intel and Microsoft have been pushing for a standard way to improve boot time. Microsoft calls its initiative OnNow, while Intel calls its Instantly Available. The Concept PC booted in about 30 seconds, partly because it didn't have to go through the traditional check of legacy components.

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