In the midst of a prolonged downturn in the technology sector and in the overall economy, both Intel Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Corp. demonstrated concept PCs showcasing emerging technologies like USB 2.0, IEEE 1394, and Bluetooth.
In its booth here at Comdex, Intel demonstrated "Hannacroix," the companys name for both a motherboard and a full-fledged system jam-packed with the latest in emerging technologies. While the system wont be sold by Intel or another vendor, Intel officials said they learned some interesting lessons in PC design that can be passed along to other vendors in design documents.
A case in point? Bluetooth, and its interaction with the 802.11b wireless technology. While Bluetooth is designed for personal area networks and the 802.11 standard is being used by wireless LANs, both technologies share the same spectrum. To compensate, Intel built the Hannacroix chassis with the Bluetooth antenna at the front of the box, and the 802.11 antenna at the back, said Dave Singh, product marketing manager for desktop platform solutions at Intel, Santa Clara, Calif.
"One of the things were trying to learn from this is how do you take a central PC, a media PC, and these different technologies—how do they interact?" Singh said
Hannacroix contains, in no particular order: the Intel 850 chipset; legacy-free I/O (no serial, parallel, or floppy drive ports), 11 USB 2.0 ports; 3 IEEE 1394a ports; an Intel 100-Mbit LAN chip on the motherboard; a six-channel Cirrus Logic 4201 audio codec; onboard Bluetooth and 802.11b; prototype Serial ATA silicon as well as a Seagate hard drive; a home gateway Communications Networking and Riser (CNR) card with a 10-Mbit HomePNA 2.0 connection; a 4X AGP card from ATI Technologies Inc.; an OnSpec SmartMedia drive; and a DVD-RW/CD-RW combo drive.
The OnSpec drive is particularly interesting; the internally mounted drive includes ports for virtually all small form-factor storage devices, including the MultiMedia Card, Secure Digital format, SmartMedia, CompactFlash and Memory Stick. In total, including such variations as the Secure Multimedia Card format, the drive supports up to 16 different types of storage, according to Singh.
Intels own USB 2.0-enabled chipset is officially due sometime in the first half of 2002, while SIS and Acer Laboratories have also voiced support. At Computex in June, however, Via CEO Wen-Chi Chen thought it best if the technology just "disappear". For now, Hannacroix uses an internal USB 2.0 port controller and port hub from NEC, as well as an external USB 2.0 hub from Cypress Semiconductor.
Complementary IEEE 1394 and Bluetooth chips are provided by Agere and Silicon Wave, respectively. Marvell is supplying the Serial ATA chip.
Intel also showed a smaller, less high-profile demonstration of an unnamed mobile concept PC motherboard. Although the demo showcased far fewer technologies, the board used a 1.5-GHz mobile Pentium 4, which will be released in "the mid-first half 2002," according to James Quaranta Jr., a customer marketing manager at Intel. A version of the Intel 845 chipset, called the Intel 845MP, was also included.
Like Intel, Hewlett-Packards concept PC may not see the light of day in its present form for two reasons: one, the machine is designed to gauge the responses of potential customers, and two, because the pending merger of Compaq may result in Hewlett-Packards business computing division being dissolved.
For now, however, HP has developed the Concept PC 2001, which takes the novel step of separating the "personal and the computing," said Eric Chaniot, a product marketing manager for HPs business desktop division in Grenoble, France.
Inside a display module about the size of a television set, HP has included an 18-inch LCD display, a speaker system, as well as a video camera. The display unit can be mounted on a wall, to mimic a flat-screen TV. The display unit does not contain the computer, however. Instead, a separate chassis contains an Intel Pentium 4 proessor, Direct Rambus memory, an ATI graphics card and a special cooling fan. Currently, both elements are connected via a 5-meter cable that includes both a video cable and a USB 2.0 connection, Chaniot said. However, HPs research team is working to extend that to 50 meters or beyond.
"It is expected that the display element will be the most expensive," Chaniot said. "However, it also will be kept for the longest period of time. The other is replaceable, it changes every year. This (the display) is what the user will look at for the longer period of time."
HPs 2000 concept desktop, Deep Forest, has been used to develop the latest incarnation of the HP ePC, which now includes a Pentium 4 processor. The new ePC, an actual shipping device, began selling today in Europe and North America for a starting price of $749.
Finally, HP also showed off a concept notebook PC, which combines the concept of a notebook , desktop and ePc all into one. Like IBMs TransNote PC, the device swivels to place the keyboard on the back, although it remains connected as a single unit.
"And all of a sudden Ive got a notebook that gosh, can be used both as a tablet and a desktop," said Hilary Glann, marketing manager for HPs mobile computing division in Cupertino, Calif.
HP has also designed a swiveling stand/docking station that, when mounted, allows the LCD screen to be used a monitor for a wireless keyboard and mouse. The stand also includes a height-adjustment feature to ease eye and neck strain.