Bag-toting buyers find nothing new

The Computex Taipei 2002 exhibition is over. And for another year, the Taipei World Trade Center exhibition halls will be quiet, without the crowds of bag-toting hardware buyers and jet-lagged tech journalists who prowl the show floor each year in search of cool new gadgets or for loose-lipped engineers eager to discuss the specs of unreleased processors and chipsets.

There were no major new announcements at Computex this year. Unlike last year, when Intel Corp. pulled the wraps off the first version of its 845 chipset and ended the RDRAM (Rambus dynamic RAM) monopoly for Pentium 4-based PCs. Or when Nvidia Corp. launched its Nforce chipset in a bid to push integrated graphics into the high end of the PC market.

No, things were much quieter this year. Intel didn't have much to show (publicly, at least). And despite rumors of a big Nvidia announcement, all we got from the Santa Clara, California, graphics-chip maker was the long-expected appearance of chipset support for Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s (AMD's) upcoming Hammer family of 64-bit processors.

Indeed, Hammer was one of the biggest stories at Computex this year. While there were no surprises, hardware makers are gearing up for the chip's release later this year, with all the major motherboard makers showing off products designed for the new processor family. Taiwanese chipset vendors were also out in force with their Hammer offerings, sharing the spotlight in this area with Nvidia.

But these developments had all been expected long before the first Computex 2002 visitor checked into the Grand Hyatt Hotel here.

"Have you seen anything new?" was a common refrain among attendees on the show floor. But that wasn't what Computex was about this year.

Instead of giving visitors a glimpse of breakthrough products or radically new technologies, Computex was proof that many of the technologies and products that vendors have hyped in recent months are either firmly mainstream or headed in that direction.

For example, wireless networking products based on the IEEE 802.11b standard were to be found throughout the show -- a sure sign that these products will soon find their way into the homes and offices of many more users. Bluetooth is also making its way towards widespread acceptance, with more Bluetooth-enabled systems and peripherals showing up this year compared to last year.

One product on display at Computex that is sure to garner an increasing amount of attention in months to come is the LCD (liquid crystal display) television set. LCD TVs are just now appearing on sale in markets like Japan. Because of their high price, they're are still a long way from becoming mainstream but that's surely where they're headed with Taiwanese companies like Benq Corp. looking to get in on the action.

What do TVs have to do with computing hardware? The answer is to be found with Microsoft Corp.

Microsoft officials were in Taipei last week showing off the latest Mira detachable display prototypes from vendors like Tatung Co., Wistron Corp., First International Computer Corp. and AboCom Systems Inc. Mira is designed to let users access their Windows XP-based PCs from a portable monitor that can be carried around the home and used for e-mail, instant messaging and Web browsing. The devices just have one drawback: they are expected to cost US$500 to $1,000 when they hit the market later this year.

But Mira is much more than just a detachable monitor. Microsoft is hoping to enlist TV makers to Mira-enable their products, according to company officials. While the Redmond, Washington, software maker won't say who they're talking to, LCD TV sets, with their high display resolution, seem like the perfect candidate for Mira. Just add a wireless keyboard and mouse, and the LCD TV set becomes a second monitor for the home PC.

This seems like just what LCD TV makers will be looking for to help justify the higher cost users will have to pay in order to get their hands on one of the new flat-panel television sets.

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Sumner Lemon

PC World
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