Computex Plays to a Full House

By Fred Jame  |  Posted 2002-06-04 Print this article Print

Exhibitors and attendees of the Taiwan show see the crowded halls and technology advances as signs of a recovering industry.

TAIPEI, Taiwan—High booth demand has forced the Computex Taipei 2002 exhibition to be separated into three halls. Both vendors and buyers see that as a sign of not only an increasing warming of global IT business but also that the next wave of profitable technology advances is near. At the show, Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. both unveiled new generations of processors. Intel demonstrated the new 845 series chip set as well as a sample 3GHz Pentium 4 architecture in motherboard maker Asus booth. According to Intel Vice President Michael Splinter, one of the events keynote speakers, the fastest shipping combination is the 2.53MHz Pentium 4 processor with Extreme Graphics functions and a 533MHz front-side bus. Many Taiwanese motherboard makers, such as Gigatech, Asustek, MSI and Aopen Inc., are using this architecture on newly announced boards.
Intel also demonstrated "future systems": In one desktop with the fastest architecture available, all the legacy interfaces are replaced by six (four external, two internal) USB 2.0 ports, and can be connected to and control the home entertainment system. The system is expected to be available in 2003.
In the other camp, AMD returned to the show for the first time since 1997. The company announced its "eighth-generation" processor and a chip set that supports the new X86-64 AMD Opteron and AMD K8 Athlon processors, which were also rolled out at Computex. Along with the new processors, motherboard makers are taking advantage of the new architecture to add new interfaces, such as USB 2.0, IEEE 1394 (also known as "FireWire") and Bluetooth, to the system. Blue (Video) Chips Although the graphics processor battle between ATI Technologies Inc. and nVidia Corp.--both of which incidentally were founded by Taiwanese--has been fierce, another player has jumped in. Silicon Integrated Systems Corp. announced SiS330, which it is touting as the worlds first graphics processor to support the DirectX 8.1 and AGP 8X standard with speeds up to 533MHz to fit Intels new chip set architecture. Similar processors have been rebranded as the "Xabre" series by Triplex, which claims the chips are "faster and cheaper" than comparable products, and are targeted between nVidias GeForce Ti and MX models. Traditionally, ATI and nVidia have their own motherboard and graphics card partners, and Radeon 8500 and GeForce 4Ti still lead the pack. But starting at the show (especially after Intel announced the 845G and 845GL integrated chip sets), the graphics chip market will have more competition, as well as more options for the users. Storage Bonanza With the new interface technologies gaining momentum, peripheral makers are excited to work on the faster, easier and more versatile products. Among these products, personal storage devices are one of the most popular genre. Since the decline of older technologies such as SCSI, serial port and floppy drives, computer users are looking for a high-speed interface to accommodate the skyrocketing capacity of hard drives and optical disks, as well as floppy-like temporary storage for quickly swapping files. As a result, hard disk enclosures with USB 2.0, FireWire or both interfaces are plentiful on the show floors, as are keychain-sized USB flash memory drives. Many of the hard disk enclosures were first developed to be used with Apple Computer Inc.s Macintosh computers, so they bear the white or gray color with a clear plastic protective shield. Even to end users, these enclosures are sold as "barebones." Users can choose any brand or capacity of 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch hard disks, and can install them themselves or have the dealer do it. Given the plug-and-play feature of USB and FireWire, these large-capacity "mobile disks" have become very popular among the graphics and video users. On the small side, the thumb-sized keychain flash RAM disks with 16MB to 1GB capacities are quickly replacing floppies for moving small amounts of data, thanks to its size, access speed, solid state security (some models can even perform data encryption) and capacity. The most popular 128MB variant now costs users about $60 each. With the razor-thin margin and the saturated markets, the previous show stealers in categories such as CD-RW and DVD drives are standing to the side, giving the center stage to the 4.7GB DVD-R/RW drives, especially since the price of DVD-R disks has dropped to under $10. VoIP In the VoIP (voice-over-IP) field, VodTel introduced at the show its MOSA series of PBX gateways, which offers several innovative designs over older VoIP devices. The no-gatekeeper design routes the voice signals over the IP network from regular PSTN lines or office PBX, and allows users to retain a dialing method identical to regular calls. The MOSA series not only lets users of two gateways to talk to each other, but it also finds the optimal route to connect the receiving party and then initiates a local call with the receiving gateway to activate a phone-to-phone call, so only local charges apply. The basic unit of the MOSA gateway costs around $700. Biometrics Innovation Newly announced as the best choice at Computex Taipei 2002, Symtron Technologys "FaceOn Logon" implements three-dimensional face recognition technology called "IFA" that scans the facial features of a computer user and uses the information as the "password" to enter the system. The software is currently Windows 2000-only, but an XP version will follow soon. The only extra hardware needed is a WDM (Windows Driver Model)-compatible USB video camera. Partnerships Thanks to the quality, innovation, and complete global logistic and supply chain management capability of the Taiwanese IT industry, most of the leading IT corporations have design or manufacturing relationships with Taiwanese companies; and the business contributes 30 percent of Taiwans export revenue. For instance, IBM, Apple, Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Gateway Inc., among others, have a long history of procuring complete computers or components from Taiwanese vendors like Quanta, Compal and Tatung. In recent years, Japanese companies, such as Fujitsu and Sharp, have also been placing orders for notebook and desktop computers. As of this writing, no new partnership has been announced at the show, but most major buyers are showing intentions to ramp up the procurement from their current Taiwanese suppliers this year and beyond. The Last Word Computex Taipei 2002 still has two days to go, and something exciting may still happen; but both vendors and buyers are showing their vitality by looking to take advantage of new applications and generate more business in the recovering IT industry. The products featured at Computex are not as flashy as those in the technology-oriented shows, but the show is a playground for consumer products that will appear on our desks, and we could benefit from those smart designs and mass market costs anytime soon. Related stories:
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