If you're planning to buy, consider these products

January 11, 1993|By Phillip Robinson | Phillip Robinson,Knight-Ridder News Service

If 1993 were a new computer product, it would have been rumored back in the early '80s, formally announced in 1991, available in stores late in 1993, then improved to a truly revolutionary version in 1996 or so. So don't count your new technologies before they hatch.

Last week I listed a number of software and hardware goodies that were touted all over the press yet were unlikely to have much or any impact on your computing in 1993. Ranking the importance of hot topics from a low of 1 to a high of 4, I suggested that for now you ignore the 1s and 2s, such as pen-based systems; the Pink, Unix, OS/2 and Windows NT operating systems; the Power-PC; object-orientation; wireless modems; workstations; Floptical drives; speech recognition; multimedia; and object-linking and embedding (OLE).

This week I look at the 3s and 4s, the stuff you should keep in mind when buying or improving a computer system in 1993. (Remember, though, not to buy or upgrade just to fight obsolescence and sneers from computerized friends. If what you have works, stick with it, or at most test a demo unit at a computer store to see if today's faster systems are worth the pain and expense of changing.)

RATING: 3

DOS 6

That's another big story for 1993. I wouldn't give it a 4 because although many people will snap it up immediately, you won't really need to. DOS 5 is good enough for most of us, at least until DOS 6 survives its shakedown period. DOS 5, Windows 3.1, and Macintosh System 7.1 will get most of us through 1993 just fine, with a few moving up to DOS 6 or adding the latest touches to the Mac system.

But new versions of DOS only help the PC run more efficiently. They won't attract new programs. All the new software is coming out for the Mac (particularly in advanced graphics) and Windows (everything else).

PCMCIA 2.0

That's PCMCIA 2.0, as in the Personal Computer Memory Card Industry Association standard, an agreed-upon design for credit card-size circuit boards that can hold memory, modems, network interfaces or pretty much any other peripheral. Such cards are vital to palmtop and notebook computers, but they'll soon spread to desktops. They offer much more compact, more energy-efficient, more rugged hardware. For '93 they're probably only a 3, but by the end of the year they'll make full-size circuit boards look as ancient as vinyl LPs seem beside compact discs.

RATING: 4 (BEST)

486 microprocessor

That's a 4 for sure. Don't buy a IBM-compatible machine with less than a 486 chip. And don't even bother with the crippled 486SX chip. Go for the real thing, the 486DX.

The megahertz (MHz) of your 486 doesn't matter as much as just getting a 486. PCs with an 8088 or 8086 chip belong only in museums. The 286 might be acceptable in a palmtop computer, but for a notebook or anything more, go straight for the 486. Don't stop for the 386 along the way. The price wars of 1992 made 486s affordable sooner than anyone expected, and the additional speed you get from a 486 makes running DOS programs a breeze and makes running Windows programs tolerable.

TC NB In 1993 we'll see the first PCs based on the Pentium processor

from Intel. That's the official name for what would have been the 586 chip. Not many of us will be able to afford a Pentium in '93, which makes it relatively unimportant. But the way it will push 486 prices even lower should give it some of your consideration in 1993.

Local bus

Until 1992, PCs had a single central bus where all the electrical signals between microprocessor, memory and video commuted. This bus stayed at its old speed of 10 MHz or so, even as microprocessors jumped to 25, 33 and 50 MHz or more -- and as video resolution and color options grew so that more and more bits had to fight through traffic to the display. The result was that although the microprocessor could solve problems many times faster than before, the screen actually slowed, with images remaining after they should have, menus slow to appear and multimedia video and animation work none too pretty. The local bus provides a separate internal bus from microprocessor to display that's much faster. The result is that a 486 PC with a local bus could look much faster than another 486 without a local bus. And when you remember that what you see on the screen is the heart of what you do with a computer, you realize that in this case, appearance counts.

Accelerator chip

Anyone who runs Windows wants more speed, and sometimes even a local bus isn't enough. Any new PC for Windows work should also include a Windows accelerator chip, such as the S3 chips that are in many of today's video boards. These rate a 4 for '93 because Windows is so important and because these chips are tailored to speed typical Windows operations on screen. Windows, menus, dialogue boxes, and within-window images appear and disappear immediately upon command, instead of after a wait.

aser printers

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