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T O P I C R E V I E W
Posted - February 07 2008 : 08:37:43 Hello and welcome to Tech Tips & Rants podcast #10 for October 20, 2007. Developments since we last spoke: Memory prices have dropped, Microsoft has announced the impending release of Vista Service Pack 1 & XP Service Pack 3, both Intel and AMD have released Quad-Core processors, and Acer buys both Gateway and Packard-Bell.
Before we talk about that, have a listen to this:
Memory has long been considered a commodity item. All that really means is that its price is volatile. Every day, memory prices change some. Well, if you’ve been thinking about a memory upgrade, now’s probably the time to get it. Due in large part, I think, to Windows Vista’s hunger for memory, demand has spiked. Normally, that would tend to increase prices. But Vista has only really enjoyed moderate success at this point. So the memory factories made a lot of memory to satisfy a demand that hasn’t really materialized. Thus, memory prices overall are down.
Another upshot of Vista’s slow takeoff has been a lengthening of the time that major OEMs can sell XP based systems. Originally, Microsoft had planned to discontinue XP sold thru retail channels and name-brand systems on January 31, 2008. They’ve now extended that period until the end of June. However, for smaller system builder like me, you will still be able to get Windows XP preloaded on your computer thru January 31, 2009. This was a full year after the original end of general availability, but now it’ll only be seven months.
Speaking of Vista: conventional wisdom says to wait until Service Pack 1 is released before transitioning to a new operating system. Microsoft has announced that Windows Vista Service Pack 1 will go through a couple of rounds of beta, then be released to the public in the first quarter of 2008. This might spur adoption of the beleaguered operating system unless Microsoft messes it up. Meanwhile, if you get a new computer with Vista, be sure you get one with either Vista Business or Ultimate. That way, you can downgrade it to Windows XP Professional or Tablet PC edition.
On the Windows XP front, service pack 3 is in limited beta. I believe it will be released about the same time as Vista’s service pack. According to PC Magazine, it doesn’t really give you much that you didn’t already have if you’ve been keeping up with your automatic updates.
Well, I promised I’d tell you about the new Quad-Core processors from Intel and AMD. But first, a little background in case you’re not familiar with what a core is. From the earliest days of the personal computer, processors have interlinked two components to do the computational work: the Arithmetic Logic Unit, and the Control Unit. Over time, other components have been linked to these two most basic units to make them more efficient. Raw speed has also increased drastically over the years, but those two basic components formed the processor’s core. You needed more than one processor chip if you wanted more than one core. In 2003, Intel duplicated many parts of the processor, but not the core itself, to again increase efficiency. This was first called hyperthreading, and later known as HT Technology. Windows saw the single processor as if it were two: one real, and one virtual. In 2005 Intel took hyperthreading to the next level. Instead of one real and one virtual core, these chips duplicated the core units along with all their resources. That’s what dual-core means: two complete execution cores on the same chip and both Intel and AMD have them available. In fact, most of the processors from both companies are dual-core. Intel’s Celeron processor is single-core, the Pentium 4 processor is single-core, but may have hyperthreading. The Xeon 5100 family, Pentium Dual Core, and Core 2 Duo processors are dual-core. The Xeon 5000 family is dual core as well, but each of those cores supports hyperthreading. What’s new is that now a second set of cores has been added into the mix. Intel’s Core 2 Quad, Core 2 Extreme, and Xeon processors in the 3200, 5300, and 7300 series are all quad-core. AMD’s forthcoming Phenom family of processors will be quad-core, and their Quad core Opteron server chip is quad-core.
Well, the last thing I said we’d talk about is Acer. If the nameplate on your computer is Acer, or Gateway, or even eMachines, well, guess what? You have an Acer computer! The #1 and 2 brands of computer worldwide are Dell and HP. Which is which swaps out from time to time, but these two are always there. But the #3 brand worldwide is Acer, and they’ve now completed their $710 million acquisition of Gateway. What’s more, they’re about to snap up Packard Bell, as well. At least they’re not letting Lenovo get it. See, Lenovo had been in talks to buy Packard Bell. Packard Bell doesn’t make computers in the US anymore, but used to. They still do business in Europe, though. Well, some time ago, Gateway negotiated the right of first refusal with Packard Bell; meaning that if another company wanted to buy them, Gateway had the right to refuse to allow Packard Bell to be purchased, making Gateway the preferred buyer of Packard Bell. That right has now been transferred to Acer, who exercised it. Look for a second acquisition soon from this Taiwanese company.
Well, maybe that’s got us caught up for a bit. I’m David Anderson; thanks for listening.