by March 12, 2000 0 comments

The year kicked in with a sigh of relief from system
administrators worldwide involved in saving their companies from the Y2k
disaster. Fortunately there weren’t any fireworks during the transition.
Perhaps the Y2k bug was overly hyped, but then had it not been so it could have
resulted in disaster. The remaining year saw many technological triumphs. As
usual, many didn’t do as expected and there are many still, which promise a
brighter tomorrow.

Motherboards Integrated motherboards became the in
thing this year. An integrated motherboard has all the common components, which you would otherwise buy separately, built in. These include sound, graphics, and even a network interface in some cases. Sound and graphics integration became common with Intel’s release of its 810 chipset-based motherboards. It put the AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) function
into the chipset itself, and gave the provision for putting the VRAM on the
motherboard. Motherboards based on this chipset can’t take an external AGP
card. The design has its limitations in terms of future upgrades. However, since
you don’t have to add any cards to use the machine, it’s priced cheaper.
Also, this change in technology made it possible to make PCs more compact.

Graphics nVIDIA’s hot GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)
processor was in great demand, both among users and vendors. More than the chip,
it was the technology it used that made the difference by freeing the CPU from
tasks like rendering, transformation, and lighting. The CPU could then do what
it does best–number crunching and floating point calculations to generate the
graphics. The overall result has been better graphics quality and higher frame
rates in games. The latest from nVIDIA is a mobile GPU called GeForce2 Go for
notebooks, which gives better graphics to mobile users.

Bus speeds In the Pentium days, 66 MHz FSB (Front Side
Bus) was the “in” thing. PII processors pushed this speed to 100 MHz,
and with the PIII it went up to 133 MHz. The buck didn’t stop here. AMD
introduced its Athlon processor that supported 200 MHz FSB. The future will see
bus speeds going even higher, at 400 MHz thanks to Intel’s latest Pentium 4

Processors The most notable achievement was the level
of integration in processors. In the Pentium days, the Level 2 (L2) cache memory
was implemented on the motherboard. Therefore, its speed was limited to that of
the motherboard. Later when the PII was launched, the L2 cache moved out of the
motherboard and landed up on the same board as the CPU. Here, the cache ran at
half the CPU’s speed. This year, the cache moved onto the same die as the CPU,
thus running at the same speed as the CPU. This helps in a more compact design
of the processor, and also makes it faster and more economical.

XML Extensible Markup Language was the most talked
about Internet technology this year. The remarkable feature of this programming
language is that you can define your own customized tags, which was not possible
in HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language). So, it can be used for creating data
structures rather than code to display data.

WAP Wireless Application Protocol was expected to
become another hot technology this year. Various large service providers
announced the launch of their WAP services this year. However, the technology
failed to become as widespread as it was expected to. Perhaps this was because
there is not enough of critical information that people will want to receive
when on the move. Another reason can be the limited amount of data that can be
displayed on today’s cell phones.


Bluetooth This technology was expected to, but could
not, make a mark this year. Bluetooth is a wireless technology that can be
implemented in mobile devices like handhelds, mobile phones, desktop PCs,
consumer appliances, etc, so that they can communicate with each other.
Supporters of bluetooth are expecting mass implementation of the technology by
the end of 2001

RDRAM This was first introduced with Intel’s 820
chipset-based motherboards. However, due to its prohibitive costs and its
performance being only marginally better than the cheaper SDRAM, it couldn’t
take off. The scene seems to be changing in RDRAMs favor once again with Intel
introducing the Pentium 4 processor with support for RDRAM.

Jiro This storage-management technology that Sun
Microsystems has been talking about is a cross platform solution for managing
the storage infrastructure of a company. A Jiro SDK is available on Sun’s
website (www.jiro. com/downloads) for download with tools, examples, and source
code for those interested. Though the technology was announced in late June this
year, we’ve not heard too much happening on it.

Broadband This technology is definitely getting
popular and is moving on the path of mass implementation. Cable modems and HDSL
technologies have been in the news this year. In fact, numerous cable operators
in several locations across the country have started providing Internet access
through cable modems to their users. An advantage of cable modems is that they
give you a permanent connection to the Internet, so a user doesn’t have to
worry about paying hefty phone bills to stay connected for a long time. DSL has
the added benefit that it uses a normal telephone copper cable to transmit data
at higher speeds. The two technologies have already become widespread in the US
and are slated to become big news in India, with implementation having already
started in many places.

DDR Double Data Rate SDRAM finally became real this
year. However, since it was introduced at the fag end of the year, we’ll have
to wait till next year to see how it holds out (not to mention potential
marketing wars with RDRAM). AMD has already announced its VIA 760 chipset-based
motherboard that supports the new type of RAM. Many manufacturers have also
started producing motherboards with this technology. What’s great about DDR
memory is that the data transfers occur at twice the rate while running on the
same clock speed. So if you are using 33 MHz RAM, then the effective clock speed
will be 266 MHz, which will result in a memory bandwidth of 2.1 GB/sec.
Similarly, if you are using 100 MHz RAM, it’s effective clock speed will be
200 MHz, and the corresponding bandwidth will be 1.6 GB/Sec. For those who are
curious, what happens is that the RAM transfers data at both the rising as well
as the falling edge of the clock pulse instead of just once during a clock pulse
in standard RAM.

.13 micron processor Intel achieved this technology
this year. The width of lines in microchips is measured in microns. Till date,
Intel had been using .18 micron process to manufacture its processors. To give
you an idea, one micron is one thousandth of a millimeter. Therefore lesser
width obviously means more circuitry in the same area. More circuitry notably
means more transistors being fit in lesser area, thus achieving compact CPUs
running in multiples of GHz.

Solid-state storage Thanks to the growing number of
gadgets in the market, this type of storage has found many uses. So whether it’s
a digital camera, hardware MP3 player, a handheld device, or even external hard
drives, they have all started using solid-state storage. It started with Sony’s
memory stick and later took the shape of flash cards. This type of storage has
no mechanical or magnetic parts, such as those in hard drives and floppy disks,
making them more reliable. Another benefit is the speed of data transfers.

The Internet The latest news on the most happening
technology this year–the Internet–is the addition of seven new domain
suffixes, approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names. These for the aviation industry, .biz for businesses, .coop for business
cooperatives, .info for general information, .museum for museums, .name for
individuals, and .pro for professionals. Non-English domain name registration
has also started. In India, ISPs proliferated this year. 397 ISP licenses were
issued till September this year, out of which nearly 100 became operational. Not
only that, but the number of Indians who went online also took a quantum jump.
Last year, this figure stood at 1.3 million, which this year jumped to 3.5
million as of July this year according to reports from IDC India. While these
figures have jumped by leaps and bounds, the bandwidth just hasn’t been able
to keep pace. I’m sure most of you have at least one sob story to tell about
the horrid Net connections. Let’s hope that the miles and miles of fiber being
laid across the length and breadth of the country will be able to quench this
bandwidth thirst. Three cheers for broadband!

Anil Chopre

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