A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Future


By Nils Dahl

Date: June 24, 2002

First, I admit that the title was adapted from the name of a fabulously funny Broadway show (Forum instead of Future).

Some time ago, Intel bestowed the P4 upon the world - and it did run slower than the PIII. Well Intel did it again - with Microsoft's support. This time it is the mandated change from ARM 5 to Xscale processors in pocketpc devices. And once again, the existing software runs slower - on a 400 mHz Xscale - than it did on a 206 mHz ARM 5. Now the code was, according to a Microsoft expert, highly optimized for ARM 4 and maintained for ARM 5 in a way that would allow one os team to offer one upgrade for all ARM powered units, regardless of age. Nice idea - but.....

I only mention this because nobody seems to have properly categorized the P4. Some time ago I asked just what the P4 'is'. Well, the P4 is a consumer grade variant of Intel's EPIC development program - neither a good EPIC design nor a good consumer replacement for the PIII. It appears to be intended as a stimulus for recoding or redesigning all software in ways that will fit the EPIC model that Intel is going to conquer the world with - any day now. Well, maybe not this year either. As usual, Intel tries very hard to deliver less performance to the mass market than it does to the commercial market - for some unknown reason.

AMD is taking the path forbidden by Intel - heavily promoting the advancement of a design that strongly supports existing code. This seems quite strange. Why?

Back in the days of the 8085 versus the Z80, it was Intel that strongly supported the existing code base and did everything possible to get developers to avoid using the Z80's special instructions. And today, we have the Z80 only as a fond memory. Perhaps Intel has forgotten the lessons that it based its future on and that lead to years of very successful processor sales.

Just in case some people missed a curious event that occurred earlier this year, Intel is still making PIII-S Xeons. The customer market strongly rejected the P4 Xeon. I hear that Intel can't even give those P4 based units away.

So I am preparing to cheer as loudly as anyone when AMD gets hammer into production and flowing in the channels - even if that takes a while longer. Since I have a steep learning curve no matter which operating system I choose, I will be migrating to Linux real soon. Windows XP just has too many annoyances. I never have used Microsoft applications anyway nor do I have any - except for a Word document viewer.

Lindows is out and about, although a quick check of the Lindows web site reveals that the applications are mainly Linux freeware (MySQL and some database written in Python are the databases available). If Walmart's Microtel would only begin selling an nForce 420 system, I would gladly buy one from that firm. The current systems seem to be mainly VIA chipset motherboards that do not provide the better level of 3D acceleration of the nForce. One nice model - at $499 - uses the KM133/A chipset, does have an AGP slot (but only 2 PCI slots) and 3 memory slots. Unfortunately, adding a Firewire card and a good sound card would fill the two PCI slots, so even that excellent choice is not for me. SYSMAR706, I believe.

Sun is offering a strong alternative but is leaving out the GUI front-end for the database included in StarOffice. Some recent version of ADABAS-D comes with StarOffice 6. I can wait until Sun releases its Linux package and see what enhancements are offered.

So what is up with Hammer anyway? All new technologies have bugs. Lots of older technologies have bugs that get work-arounds of various sorts. AMD is aiming for the business world and must concentrate entirely on removing or working around bugs in all of its Hammer line right now - to get product to market that will pass all endurance tests and become acceptable as useful big iron. Meanwhile, Athlon XP, still the shining star of the x86 code world, is becoming the low cost standard for high performance systems.

Please don't forget VIA's Centaur. Given an efficient operating system, perhaps a Linux that is localized to each region's specific needs, Centaur can perform most computing chores admirably. Never let yourself be blinded by some performance level wants. You may overlook lower cost solutions that are quite capable of doing your work well.

Meanwhile, consider watching Ghost In The Shell and pay close attention to the last line of this movie. A new entity is born and is off to explore, learn, and grow. Yes, Ghost was the first truly great AI story - although I still enjoy Fritz Lang's Metropolis from the era of silent films. Yes, folks, the Major was an artificial intelligence in a fully robot body - although even she didn't know it. If you ever want to see some of the world's best printed color art work, try buying Intron Depot, a collection of Masamune Shirow's robot shell design art and other characters. You will not believe the quality of the images.

Ah summer in central Connecticut, deep in the river valley where humid air sits and stagnates. Wethersfield, home of the world's largest sewage spill (22 million gallons), is 'steeped' in the stuff. Once the northernmost river port of the Connecticut River, it became a backwater overnight during a massive flood that changed the river's path. Things do change. Go with the flow.

nils dahl

just an old man


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