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Processors for the People

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Column So you think that the PC business is tough? Well its about to get a lot tougher unless you have a business model that is ready for PC’s being resold for $400 (£240). That’s the price that e-machines are selling their PC for, dubbed the E Tower 266, features 32MB of SDRAM, the ATI Technologies' Rage graphics accelerator, 512K level 2 cache memory, 24X CD-ROM, V.90 56K modem and a 2.1-gigabit hard drive. PC buyers can add a 14-inch monitor for $100 more. Intel's response to the sub basic PC sector is to keep CPU prices up by offering integrated motherboards. But the integration they offer means using "soft" modems and integrated sound and graphics. But these look like being poor options and motherboard vendors are already leaving slots on the board to add hardware modem and sound support such as the 8810 chip from Aureal. Intel is better off leaving this sector alone. It does not have a business model that can support sub $100 processors with less than 30% margins. If it keeps chasing it, it will have a lot of very upset shareholders. But without Intel processors the basic PC segment has had to make do with Cyrix parts that offer poor games support, weak floating point and poor MMX implementation. (AMD makes great parts but they are busy competing at the high end with Intel). Until now. Enter stage left is a relative new comer to the processor scene called Rise. (www.rise.com) Unlike other CPU manufacturers Rise makes no apology for not having 400MHz devices. Its focused on making processors for the basic PC segment that run games and multimedia apps without embarrassment. Rise has turned conventional engagement into the CPU business on its head by refusing to take part in pointless benchmarking arguments. Instead they are embracing the e-machines concept with a range of CPU’s complete with reference design platform to enable system builders to offer complete systems at sub $500 levels. Rise argues that at sub $500 (£300) buyers care not a hoot for MHz or PR ratings just so long as they can play Half Life, Quake and watch the Pam Anderson "video" without the picture looking "jerky". They want a good price but not a poor performing machine. We already know that a 266 processor will run Office 97 without a hitch. Thus the Rise processors are getting a name for themselves as the "Processors for the People" – parts, which give performance without apology at, sub $500. It looks like it might be time to cash in Intel shares and keep the cash ready for Rise… ®

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