Technology Positioning Statement Report

4.1.1 Desktop Computer Hardware and Interconnections

Description: Desktop computer hardware, connections and interfaces.

Category: 4 - Client Platforms   Subcategory: 1 - General Purpose Client Platforms
Old Category: none




Industry UsageSC Usage

Performance Metrics

CPU speed; Windows 2000 compatibility; USB, PCI connection standards and interoperability; streaming audio/video processing; reliability; low total energy consumption.

Usage and Dependencies

Industry Usage:

CPU: Intel, the CPU chip leader, is phasing out the 900 MHz Pentium III, the 440BX chipset, and the 100 MHz memory bus in favor of >1 GHz chips, a 133 MHz memory bus, and a new chipset. The 850 Chipset delivers a performance leap in managing traffic from I/O, drives, memory, graphics and the processor. Pentium 4 processor-based workstations with next generation NetBurst microarchitecture "offers advanced features for entry-level workstations, including Streaming SIMD Extensions 2 (SSE2), the new breakthrough execution trace cache, an enhanced 400 MHz bus and a rapid execution engine. These design features provide workstation users with the performance headroom they need to power today’s and tomorrow’s applications" (from Intel).

Meanwhile, on March 22, 2001, Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) introduced the 1.33GHz and 1.3GHz AMD Athlon™ processors. "The 1.33GHz AMD Athlon processor-based platforms with Double Data Rate (DDR) memory outperform the Intel Pentium® 4 processor-based platforms by up to 40 percent on a variety of benchmarks, including video encoding, audio, video and image editing, and 3D modeling and animation." (from AMD).

64-bit processors: There must be a compelling business need to upgrade to 64-bit processors; there are tradeoffs involved. One possible business need is related to the implementation of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) with Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption. "Despite the widespread reliance on these algorithms, they have one significant drawback: They are very compute-intensive and known to have a significant impact on server performance. This is especially true in the case of short transactions, which are typical of e-Commerce. The Intel® Itanium™ processor has several features that can help to speed up security solutions such as SSL." (from Intel).

On the other hand, "although increased demand on the high-end along with technical advances is making 64-bit a reality, it is anticipated that the industry as a whole will not fully embrace the 64-bit world entirely for many more years.... The challenge for processor manufacturers is to find a way to offer customers all the advantages of 64-bit processing in a market friendly fashion while making the conversion from 32-bit efficient and inexpensive. Unfortunately, the 64-bit solutions proposed by some processor manufacturers leave customers facing a potentially disruptive and ultimately expensive transition to the new architectures." (from AMD).

Hard Disk Drives: Recently, the hard disk drive (HDD) industry has been driven by PCs, whose growth rate appears negative. Moreover, DISK/TREND ( predicts that by 2002, the average price for all disk drives will be $0.003/MB, compared with $0.043/MB last year. Meanwhile, Maxtor, Seagate and Western Digital are trying to move upstream into more profitable businesses, with mixed results. The challenge is that hardly anything differentiates a 10GB Seagate drive from one by Western Digital. Since Seagate went private, money-losing Western Digital gets a lot of investor focus, with some question about its long-term viability.

For HDDs, consumer demand is the next big thing. Until 2000, the industry had only been talking about such devices emerging, but manufacturers are now rolling out such new devices as personal TV recorders, storage-enabled set-top boxes and storage-enabled game consoles. Upcoming products include disk-drive-attached MP3 players, audio jukeboxes, digital cameras and personal digital assistants. If this pattern continues, consumer-electronics, a market where Quantum itself has shipped over one million units, will be require more than half a billion drives in five to 10 years, about the same number as traditional PC-related disk drives. This will bring the total number of shipped HDDs to more than one billion, against 200 million projected for 2000.  Maxtor and Quantum Merge, Lead HDD Consolidation Trend, Bob Zimmerman, Giga, October 17, 2000.

Monitors: Industry conversion from CRT to LCD technology is proceeding, but gradually due to the fact that LCD cost has not declined rapidly; for equal screen size the LCD displays cost more than 3 times the initial CRT cost. Of course LCD's have reduced power consumption, but this alone is not enough to offset the price differential. Future technologies are expected to improve this situation, but they are not here now.

Summary: According to Giga, "The PC, the device we have fondly cursed since the 1980s, is dead. It will be replaced by a variety of PC-like devices that will provide an experience much closer to what users have always wanted. This replacement will begin in 2000 and become a tidal wave by 2002. Planning for this change now becomes a critical requirement." -- Selecting Desktop Hardware in 2000 and 2001, Rob Enderle, January 11, 2000.

SC Usage: Clients are a mixture of Pentium II (400 MHz, 128 MB of RAM, 8 GB of disk space, PCI bus, 17-inch to 20-inch CRT monitor) and Pentium III equipment. SC’s current desktop technology elements are sufficient for its current needs, and all desktop workstations were upgraded in FY 2000. This hardware is also sufficient to support some NT server applications. These capabilities are adequate for supporting most users' needs for the next 2 years at least. There is no immediate business need to upgrade desktop hardware, other than the planned transition to LCD displays as a power-saving improvement. However, the upgrade to Windows 2000 will require upgrades in driver software and BIOS to fully support new or expanded features of the OS such as ACPI (Advanced Computer Power Interface).

SC has been doing most things right in this area; by establishing and enforcing desktop standards; by maintaining a sliding 5-year strategic plan; by migrating desktop applications to servers and the web; and by forming IT customer groups. Giga also recommends an increasing emphasis on upgrades and training for server-side skills, and second-sourcing PC purchases.

SC Application Impacts: All architected applications require desktop hardware that can run Windows 2000, along with multiple simultaneous applications (database, Web browser, integrated desktop suite) and auxiliary software support requiring robust platforms.

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