Four Years 2524

Four years is not normally a big period of time in the course of human events. A Presidential
term, a completion of high school or college.

But if you had someone stop paying attention to computers for four years; Rip Van Winkle was
up-to-date when he woke up by comparison.

Ran across a four-year old PC World a little while back, and it reads like another age, another era, but it was
just yesterday. Unless you’re fifteen years ago, this isn’t the world of some now-dead, or certainly old and decrepit
folks; it was your world.


Nowadays, people overclock 200Mhz without even thinking about it. Back then, that was the total speed.

If you wanted to buy Intel, processors weren’t named like Rocky movies. You didn’t have to think PIII or PIV. You had just P. Except
if you wanted to spend a lot more for that new fangled thang called a PPro.

In all likelihood, though, you probably were looking towards the sequel to the highly successful (outside of that little floating-error bug at
the beginning) P, the PII, though Intel initially meant that only for $3,500 machines.

PC World did a preview of that new device, running at a speedy 4 X 66Mhz, or 266Mhz, with its brand-new slot design, and new dedicated video connection called AGP, and compared it to
the next generation AMD chip, something called a K6-233Mhz. The PII won, but PC World thought the K6 had a chance of a bright future ahead of it, given its continuing to use
a System 7 socket, along with its bargain-basement price of $469, much less than the $600-700 estimated for the PII 266.

Both processors were made using the standard .35 micron process, though both promised that they would be shifting to a .25 micron within the year. Intel was saying enough so that PCWorld was predicting that its .25 micron processor, code-named Deschutes, would get
up over 400Mhz eventually. Not that Intel planned on standing still after that, though. After the introduction of Deschutes in late 1997, Katmai would come six months later, Willamette a year later, and by the beginning of 1999, its revolutionary 64-bit CPU, Merced, would be out.

AMD was feeling pretty good about things, too. It figured it could make 15 million K6s in 1997, and 40 million in 1998. Cyrix was also planning a .25 micron processor, the M2, that would come along one of these days as a follow-up to its pretty successful 6×86 chip.

But that was the future. What could the reader buy now?

If you looked at the Gateway ad with the ever-present cow, you found yourself with a number of options.

Prices had dropped a whole lot during 1996, and computers were an incredible bargain compared to even a year ago. You could buy a loaded Gateway system,
with a P200MMX processor, 32Mb of this brand new memory called SDRAM, a 17-inch .28dp monitor, a 2Mb 3-D 64-bit PCI graphics, a 2.5Gb EIDE hard drive, 16X CD-ROM, Ensoniq sound
card, Altec Lansing speakers, 33K fax modem, and Windows95 AND Office 97 SBE for less than $2500!

If that were a little too rich for your blood, no problem. Gateway had a bargain-basement 133Mhz Pentium with 16Mb of RAM, a 15-inch monitor, a 1.2Gb hard drive for only $1,600.

How low could prices go? One article looked at bargain desktops ranging from $1,000-$1,300 (and didn’t think a whole lot of them). As they put it, “Companies have long targeted $2,000 to $2,500 as the ideal price range for a PC, but many people can’t afford even that.”

Not even that. After all, component prices had taken a plunge. Internal 56K modems were debuting at prices as low as $150, only a few dollars more than brand-name 33.6K modems, though trouble loomed on the horizon with completing K56flex/X2 standards.

CPUs were reasonably priced, you could buy a P200 for about $450.

Memory was getting damn cheap. You could buy 32Mb EDO RAM for less than $5 a Mb. The new SDRAM was still pricey, but it was going for $7 a Mb. The 64Mb modules, whether EDO or SDRAM, were still a bit much at about $500 a pop, but they were sure to go down. There were even bigger ones for certain machines, but 128Mb cost about $1,700, and 256Mb cost over $3,600.

Monitors were cheap, about $250 for a good 14-incher, about $350 for a good 15-incher, and decent 17-inchers could be bought for under $600. If you wanted to go big time, you could get a Viewsonic G810 21″ for the bargain price of less than $1,400.

The big 3Gb hard drives debuting had broken the critical $100 per Gb level, and reaching speeds up to 5400rpm. You needed a big tape backup to handle such big drives, but you could get a new Colorado tape backup which could hold a whole 3.2Gb (compressed) per tape for only $175.

12X CD-ROMs cost $125-150, and you could now get a 2X recordable for little more than $400, and a 4X for about $700-800. With blank CD-Rs costing just $5 a piece when bought in bulk, CD recording was beginning to become affordable. Brand-name floppy drives were about $40 a piece.

These new 3D video cards with 4Mb of RAM were coming in at less than $250, too.

Inkjet printers had broken the $200 barrier, though the fairly good ones still cost more like $300. Reasonably decent scanners had gotten really cheap, you could buy a pretty good Umax S-6E for about $270, and if you really needed something great, you could get the S-12, with 600X1200 resolution, for as low as $450.

Of course, once you were all dressed up, where did you go? The new place to go (for most) was: the Internet! The two-ish year old Netscape ruled there, of course, and PC World reviewed its new Communicator product, while noting that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0 might give it a real run for the money.

PCWorld spent about fifteen pages talking about the free stuff you could find in this new place. Well, mostly shareware and a few news and entertainment sites, but hey, it was free. They had an editorial entitled “The Death of the Free Web?” (the answer was there would be more paid AND free stuff).

When people are out looking for something for nothing, or something too good to be true, others take advantage of that. One feature talked about emerging cyberscams.

Four years.

Just imagine how silly anything written today is going to look in the summer of 2005.

Email Ed

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