The personal computer of the future will have video that's as good as television, sound that stacks up to a high-end compact-disc player, and animation that's as smooth as a Disney movie. The question is: Who will build it?
Apple Computer - which traditionally has dominated this area of computing - is moving toward its vision of a next-generation, media-rich machine. But rival Intel Corp. is stealing some of its thunder. The Santa Clara, Calif., company is unveiling a new slate of computer chips that will take an important step toward turning the IBM-compatible computer into a box that even Hollywood could love.
The key to Apple's strategy is new operating-system software that it said Jan. 6 will come to market in 1998. The key to Intel's announcement is a chip technology called MMX, which will immediately be used in new, high-end computers now employing the company's Pentium chips. Whoever wins, consumers can look forward to machines that handle video, graphics, and sound much faster than today's personal computers (PCs).
"PCs as multimedia platforms have been growing dramatically," says Frank Spindler, marketing manager for Intel's Pentium chip. "We think this technology will make them that much more compelling against really any other alternative." Using one benchmark, the company claims a 60 percent boost in multimedia performance from MMX in a Pentium computer platform.
While MMX will speed up the video and audio processing of basic Pentium machines, it will not be as fast or smooth as purpose-built video games, such as Nintendo, or PCs with certain add-on video cards. Other manufacturers making Pentium clones also have plans to incorporate Intel's MMX - or multimedia extension - technology.
"It's definitely going to damage the Mac's competitive position in graphics," says Michael Slater, publisher and editorial director of Microprocessor Report, an industry newsletter published in Sebastopol, Calif.