Santa Packs A Lap Top!
But, Does It Have MMX Technology?
By Robert Ross

Wait a minute, didn't we just celebrate Christmas? I mean, last year's Christmas decorations are still in a box on my garage workbench, waiting to be put away in some dark cabinet, and . . . it's time to bring them out again? So much for my good intentions. It seems that things are speeding up a bit, not only in time, but they seem to be speeding up in the computer industry too.

To get a handle on just how fast things are moving - in the computer field - I took a trip to the library to look at last year's holiday issues of the newspaper, specifically looking at computer technology and prices.

As I browsed through the December 1996 newspaper, the first thing I noticed was prices. The average home computer with a 133-megahertz Pentium chip, a one gigabyte hard drive, eight megabytes of Ram, an eight-speed CD-ROM and a twenty-eight speed mo-dem was selling for more than $2000. If you bought your computer last Christmas, you would have bought a state-of-the-art machine. A state-of-the-art machine that only twelve months later would be a not-so state-of-the-art machine. In 1996, there was no mention of terms of like 512-K of Pipeline Burst Cache, MMX technology, 266 and 300-megahertz chips, 56-K modems, twenty-four speed CD ROMS or six-gigabyte hard drives.

Twelve months later . . . in today's newspaper, the first thing I notice? Prices. Some as low as $999 for a com-puter that has similar (but vastly superior) devices. But the interesting thing is, when you look at the technology in today's computers, the word "phenomenal" seems to be an understatement.

In every area of the 1996 computer ads, technology has taken a quantum leap forward. Two hundred and sixty-six and 300-megahertz chips are featured as an entry level computer, replacing the 133 and 166-megahertz chip. CD-ROMS? No mention of the eight-speed, now they're at least sixteen-speed, with twenty-four speed being the benchmark. RAM? Sixteen megabytes is entry level. But let's face it, what would your neighbors say if they knew you only had sixteen megabytes of RAM? Hard drives? Four, five and six gigabytes of hard drive is what any reasonable family is going to need. Modems?

The recent T.V. ad where a young boy feels left out and dejected because his modem is only 28.8, sums things up. Everywhere you look, computer technology is moving ahead at breakneck speed.

With the holiday season upon us, it's a bit of a dilemma knowing that whatever computer you buy today, will soon, and I mean very soon, be considered yesterday's technology. And then there's the price issue. Computer prices are, without a doubt, heading down. Will that trend continue? One can only hope so.

Given the need to keep up with the advances in computer technology and the desire to not waste money on something that's going to be outdated soon, is there any way around this quandary? Recently, on the Jeff Levy (radio KFI) computer talk show, I heard a bit of advice that I think is worth passing along.

That advice was, if you are thinking about buying a computer today - do it, but know what your upgrade route is going to be. For example, can you take your 200-megahertz Pentium chip that you just bought and replace it with a 300-megahertz chip without replacing your motherboard? If you buy a computer today with sixteen megabytes of RAM, and next year, 32 megabytes is the minimum you'll need, can you upgrade to that level without it costing an arm and a leg? I like Mr. Levy's advice. It says jump in, go for it, but be ready to change and grow.

So, just to double check Mr. Levy's advice, I e-mailed Santa, using my outdated 28.8 modem of course, and asked what his thoughts were on buying a computer this Christmas. He asked a couple of basic questions, you know the usual, was I brushing my teeth regularly, being nice, eating my vegetables... he then asked a most unusual question. It went something like this: "You know, we're at the beginning of one of the most extraordinary technological advances in human history. It's going to require that all of us stay on top of each and every development. We're going to have to push the computer industry by demanding more of them. And, we're going to have to demand more of ourselves. There's a synergy between user and developer, and you can be a part of that synergy. Are you interested in participating in this historic moment in time?"

Well, my answer didn't require a lot of thought. Of course! Santa was, as always, right. I think the Nike ad sum-med up his thoughts exactly, when they say . . . "Just do it!"

My next e-mail to Santa (of course, after I upgrade to a 56K modem) is going to be "hey Santa, what do you think of the 300-megahertz chip . . . should we wait, or . . .?"

Robert Ross can be reached at

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