LAS VEGAS -- Smaller, faster, more powerful, less expensive and more overwhelming: These are the words that best describe the products on display here at the annual personal computer trade exposition called Comdex, a high-tech bazaar where an estimated 120,000 computer buyers and sellers are meeting this week to inspect the latest hardware and software.
The new products are spread out over more than 2 million square feet of display booths.
On the desktop, machines of the first generation to be based on the Intel 486 microprocessor are on display. The 486 chip is the most powerful PC engine available today, but until recently it was used primarily in floor-standing computers called network servers. The new desktop models may also be used as network servers, but some companies represented here expect to sell them to individual users as well.
The 486 chip has about twice the horsepower of the previous generation chip, the 386, which itself has more horsepower than most people need for everyday computing chores. However, financial analysts, engineers and scientists who need every bit of performance they can get are expected to be among the early users of desktop 486 machines.
AST Research Inc. of Irvine,Calif., is showing the least-expensive desktop 486 machine we have seen, called the Bravo 486/25. Prices start at $3,995 for a computer without a hard disk drive and rise to $5,365 for a model with a 200-megabyte hard disk.
There are even a few prototypes of portable 486-based machines. Dolch Computer Systems Inc. of Milpitas, Calif., is showing an 18-pound, $16,000 "luggable" machine that uses the fastest 33-megahertz version of the 486 chip.
The International Business Machines Corp., which is demonstrating its new desktop and floor-standing 486 machines, is expected to have a 486-based portable of its own in the coming months.
On the software side, applications based on the DOS-Windows operating system are the last word. The Microsoft Corp. reports that its Windows version 3.0 software, which is loaded into a computer as an extension to DOS, has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since its introduction last summer.
Windows has been around for many years, but the new version is the first to capture the imagination of the average PC user.
There has been a flurry of interest in the Windows word-processing category here as a result of a proposed acquisition of Samna Corp. of Atlanta by Lotus Development Corp.
Lotus, the second-largest PC software company after its archrival Microsoft, had stubbornly resisted Windows and was caught off guard when Windows became wildly popular. Lotus has no Windows software of its own, so it is seeking to acquire Samna and its excellent Windows word-processor, Ami Professional.
Ami Professional is the strongest challenger to Microsoft's own Word for Windows, and if the proposed deal goes through, Lotus, which dominates the spreadsheet market with 1-2-3, now has a chance to be a major player in the word processing field as well.
Wordperfect Corp. of Orem, Utah, which makes the most popular plain-DOS word processing program, is also showing a Windows version of Wordperfect that company officials said will be ready before next spring.