PC World U.S. senior editor Eric Dahl investigates Intel's planned Quad-core systems, the impending competition between Leopard and Vista, Samsung's low-cost storage solution and other current and future gadget essentials.
The buzz: What do you do when two CPU cores just aren't enough? You start packing four of them into a system, of course. That's what Intel and AMD are set to do in different ways toward the end of the year. After a successful Core 2 Duo launch, Intel has decided to move up the launch of its Kentsfield chip, which essentially loads a pair of Core 2 Duo dies onto a single package. That chip is now set to ship by the end of the year, which miraculously coincides with the launch window for AMD's 4x4--a high-end, dual-socket platform that delivers four cores in the form of a pair of dual-core Athlon 64 X2 or FX processors.
Bottom line: Quad-core performance gains are likely to be small for most applications, though power-hungry creative types and gamers could see some benefit. But I still don't see how AMD gets "4x4" out of two dual-core chips. Maybe we can convince Intel to team up with Home Depot to produce some 2x4s.
Leopard hunts Vista
The buzz: Microsoft just might be in for the fight of its life next year, when Vista finally ships--and runs right into Apple's latest update to OS X. Apple plans to launch Leopard next spring, and the Intel-based Mac Pro desktop systems that will make it sing are shipping now. Apple previewed Leopard (and tried out some new Microsoft zingers) at its World-Wide Developer Conference in August. Highlights include a fully supported version of Boot Camp that lets you dual-boot Intel Macs into Windows, and some enhancements to iChat that let you share applications and photos. But the most welcome development should be Time Machine, an automatic backup feature that allows you to retrieve old versions of files and restore deleted data via a time-line interface.
Bottom line: I wouldn't have even dreamed this two years ago, but with Boot Camp on board and OS X looking as good as it does, my next PC may very well be an Apple.
Samsung's 4GB SSD
The buzz: Imagine if all your critical apps and OS data could live in a fast, permanent cache. With a 4GB solid-state drive like the one Samsung is getting ready for Vista-based desktop and laptop PCs, that dream could become a reality. Using Vista's ReadyBoost feature, the new SSDs could greatly speed up access to critical applications and data while using less power than normal hard drives.
Bottom line: Big-time SSDs--the kind that could replace a hard drive--will remain expensive for a good long while. Fortunately, at current flash memory prices, the 4-gig models cost US$150 or less.
Holographic storage: It's a neat idea that lets you pack tons of data onto optical media by storing it in three dimensions. When we last checked in on the technology, Maxell and InPhase hoped to have 300GB discs the size of CDs ready sometime this year. Amazingly, they're still on track. The first models will be well out of the range of consumers, with drives costing upward of US$15,000 and media going for around US$120 each. Wallet-friendlier versions are in the works, though. InPhase expects to develop less-expensive media that can store between 75GB and 100GB in an area the size of a postage stamp.
TripHub: Beta Web site helps groups plan vacations.
X1900 GT: The US$279, 256MB version of ATI's high-end card defines the new sweet spot.
Topix: Revamped news engine looks better than ever.
Custom Search: Like Rollyo, this Yahoo tool lets you select which sites to search.
Wireless DJ: Logitech's US$249 PC-to-stereo music streamer comes with a nifty LCD-equipped remote.