13th > October > 1998 Archive

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ATI prepares Chromatic buyout

Graphics card specialist ATI is believed to be in talks to buy media processor developer Chromatic. Both companies have admitted they are talking together -- but neither will say what the goal of the negotiations is. For Chromatic, a deal with ATI couldn't come at a better time. Its most recent offering, the Mpact 2, which combines 2D and 3D acceleration with video support, all on a single chip, failed to find widespread support, and the company has now ceased development work on it. Media processors have largely been superseded by dedicated 3D systems like 3Dfx's Voodoo range and Nvidia's Riva line of accelerators. Consumers appear to see clearer benefits in 3D acceleration than in video digitisation, the application at which media processors are generally aimed. However, Chromatic is working on a totally new architecture, possibly designed to bring 2D and 3D acceleration to set-top boxes, a market that ATI, despite its knowledge of graphics technology, has little expertise in. Reason enough to consider a takeover? Perhaps, but Micro Design Resources senior analyst Peter Glaskowsky was more cautious in his appraisal. "There's simply not enough data out there to see if it makes sense yet," he said. ® Click for more stories
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Intel boxes boost HP Q2 workstation sales

Hewlett-Packard is claiming leadership in the world-wide workstation market for the third consecutive quarter, with a 10.5 per cent increase in units shipped, and a 31 per cent market share in Q298, according to Dataquest. The nature of HP's workstation numbers has however raised grumbles from Sun in the past, and the same beefs will apply for the last quarter. HP's figures combine Unix and PC workstation sales, and HP is way ahead of its nearest competitor in Intel workstation sales. The company claims 88,000 Intel units in Q2, three times its nearest competitor and 46.5 per cent of the market. This however is a market HP has had more or less to itself until quite recently. The company applied workstation design techniques to Intel-based machines ahead of most other PC manufacturers, and in advance of Intel's decision to start producing designs for commodity-level workstations. Dataquest itself puts Sun in the lead in revenues, although these were down 20 per cent to $930 million. HP gained 16.3 per cent to $833.8 million. NT workstations were 54.4 per cent of the market, which totalled 355,920 units. As the Dataquest definition includes machines at under $2,500, Sun may have a point - but its revenues are still clearly under pressure. ® Click for more stories
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Baan shares take bath after warning

Baan expects to confirm on 28 October that its revenue will be in the $190 to $195 million range for Q3, but that there was a loss of between $0.13 and $0.16 per share. So far, the FY is 30 per cent up for the first nine months over the previous-year first nine months. This funny habit, which is increasing, of making a preliminary announcement of poorer results seems to be a way of saying "We did tell you as soon as we knew, please don't be harsh on us." The same applies to reassuring conference calls to the all-powerful financial analysts, whose casual and often highly-ignorant remarks for their own truly-vested interests can damage a company that is in fact doing rather well, but not necessarily in quarterly stages. The Dutch Beurs heard the news before trading started, and the result was a rout. The volume of trading in Baan shares was ten times the normal, and the fall 29 per cent to NLG 23.50 - and this was on a day when 28 of the AEX 30 shares index went up, to give an AEX rise of 6 per cent. Baan has disappointed investors, since in April the shares reached NLG 107.80. Monday was a twelve-month low. Although the revenue will be up for the quarter just ended, compared with the year-earlier quarter, Baan failed to close sufficient deals in the quarter to make the numbers. Jan Baan, the founder and former CEO, attributed the problem to the usual culprit: the global financial crisis delaying decisions. The complex private dealings by Jan Baan with Baan private companies some months ago, after which Baan stepped down, did not help the share price. In his keynote address, Baan put it down to 30 sales prospects that did not sign-up before the end of the quarter. A cheery note was that there were more new customers in the quarter than ever before. ® Click for more stories
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Baan bets big on Windows NT products

Baan has just ended thirteen consecutive quarters of meeting financial analysts' expectations, and started a partnership with Microsoft. But which is the bad news? At BaanWorld in The Hague, 3,500 attendees heard Microsoft, in the shape of sales and support VP Jeff Raikes, bless the creation of a partnership whereby Baan will provide all its software, upgrades and self-service support, with exclusively Microsoft software - NT, SQL Server, Exchange Server, and Site Server Commerce Edition. All this for a fee starting at $99 per desktop per month - providing there are 5,000 desktops in the enterprise, providing the deal is for three years or more, and providing that all desktops are counted, whether they are involved in some aspect of enterprise work or not. It makes it a pretty expensive proposition if you do the sums: nearly $18 million over three years for a 5,000 desktop company on our abacus. Previously, Baan's prices were based on the number of users. Raikes' speech could best be described as winging it. He tried to elaborate on the metaphor that Gates casually introduced of the digital nervous system, but his knowledge of genetics was not up to it. There seems to be no correlation between Raikes' claim that "we can facilitate the development of DNS in your organisation" and any concrete definition of what a DNS is really supposed to be. Gates, still an undergraduate despite his honorary doctorate from a private Dutch university, should mug up some undergraduate textbooks on the subject. Baan provided its own definition of DNS - an integrated information management system - so why not call it that? We were left wondering whether users that might want Baan's software would really be influenced by this deal: decisions about servers are rather religious, after all, although pricing is a concern. If Raikes winged his speech, he rode out handsomely on a bicycle made for two that was presented to him as an appearance fee. Baan CEO Tom Tinsley was at the front of the tandem, and this probably marks the only time that Baan will lead Microsoft. Jan Baan and the move to NT Jan Baan's last major contribution to the company seems to have been to have put in place a fundamental move to NT, away from Unix, and away from everything that is not made by Microsoft (or bought-in by Microsoft - such as SQL Server, from Sybase to give just one example). As a result, Baan was able to say that more than half of Baan's sales were now with NT. Jeff Raikes, who should know the real Microsoft sales figures as he's Microsoft's VP of sales and support, claimed that NT Server was achieving 2 million sales/year, Exchange Server 15 million/year, SQL Server 4 million/year, and Office 25 million/year. Until now, Microsoft has mostly talked about percentage increases in sales, because the sales, particularly of NTS, were so low that percentage increases looked like good news. Now that numbers are being claimed, it's interesting that no dollar sums are attached, and that is for the simple reason that there is deep-discounting going on, and quite a few free samples, we suspect. Raikes congratulated Baan for getting the Microsoft BackOffice logo - although we wondered whether Baan's software would roll out problem-free with SMS. Raikes said that there would be native COM/DCOM integration, and liked the way Baan was developing decision support strategy around SQL Server and OLAP Server. The naming of Baan products and services is, well, barmy rather than balmy - fermenting froth rather than fragrant exudations. There's just to much 'Baan'. One very interesting flight-from-Baan is the renaming of Baan Business Innovation to TriArch, which is owned by Vanenburg Ventures, previously known as , err . . . Baan Investments. The company is concerned with enterprise modelling, and employs 200 people worldwide. The relationships between Jan Baan's private companies and Baan NV that caused the financial stir still seem to be very close, and we see the shadow of the Baan Board in the renaming. TriArch's website just happens to reside on baan.com, however, and consists at the moment of a squiggly-pattern page. Baan's new pricing model of per PC rather than per user is a gamble, but one familiar to Microsoft. Remember when per-processor licences of Microsoft operating systems were banned by the consent decree, stopping Microsoft from collecting a fee from OEMs whether a PC was shipped with a Microsoft operating system or not? We see a replay here that could lead to more trouble with the European Commission's DGIV for Competition, and the DoJ if they ever had the time for it. If users feel locked in, they will pay, and perhaps Baan will just improve its income from volume rather than price. The conventional wisdom, which is usually wrong, is that the market is stagnating because of Y2K issues. Wiser councils suggest that users feel that prices are too high for ERP software and that prices may fall for competitive reasons. Some Baan users may not like the strategy being based on the Microsoft relationship, and vote with their feet. SAP remains Baan's major competitor, but although the companies are European neighbours, their cultures differ sharply. SAP's offerings are more expensive and more complex, and there is an element of betting-the-company in deciding to install SAP. SAP's pre-announced Q3 result suggests the full year will be more-or-less on target, but this hasn't stopped SAP's shares halving over the last couple of months. However, even that's better than Baan having more than quartered its share price in six months. An element in this rapid change includes the belief that the ERP market is over-valued, it would seem. So is all this enterprise resource software a good thing, and should an enterprise trust itself to Baan and Microsoft? It would be best to ask Baan: they run on their company on their own code, and Microsoft BackOffice. Baan's evergreen products, as the company likes to dub them, are looking rather deciduous: the leaves are beginning to fall. ® Click for more stories
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AMD, Intel let K7 and Katmai off the leash

In San Jose today Intel and AMD will set out their rival stalls for next year’s Katmai versus K7 needle match, with AMD taking the offensive for the first time in many a year. So far this year AMD has managed to carve out a better share for itself at the low end of the market, but it’s now tooling-up for an assault further up the PC food chain, and with the K7 is planning a spring offensive which it feels could at last pull it ahead of Intel. The new K7 will be out in the first half of 1998, and will run initially at speeds in excess of 500 MHz. AMD will be pushing 3D graphics capabilities heavily, and will be supporting Direct Rambus memory technology with the chip. Intel’s counter will be the Tanner chip using the new Katmai instruction set. Tanner too will debut at 500MHz, and while Intel is trailing the prospect of a 1GHz version by the end of the year, AMD will be moving K7 production to a copper process over the year, so the competitors promise to be closer than ever before. That means competition on price will be a major factor, but AMD itself thinks graphics could be its secret weapon. The company feels that 3D technology has been important in the recent success of the K6-2, and has recently told The Register it felt Katmai would be too new, and the part too expensive, to command the interest of developers. Intel itself last week fleshed-out a roadmap taking the company into the next century, and making it clear that Tanner and the other forthcoming members of its IA-32 line would remain major revenue sources for Intel up to and beyond next year’s Merced rollout. Related Stories: Katmai out of the bagAMD claims gamesters not interested in Katmai Intel maps out future of IA-32 with 1 Ghz CPU, Katmai and friends Click for more stories
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Judge allows "state's evidence" in Microsoft suit

The judge in Microsoft's least publicised lawsuit has ruled that Connecticut's attorney general can offer comments supporting Bristol Technologies' action against Microsoft. District Judge Janet Hall overruled Microsoft's objections yesterday, and said that state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal could file a 'friend of the court' document in support of Bristol. Bristol is asking for a preliminary injunction against Microsoft compelling the company to carry on giving it access to NT source code on reasonable terms. Bristol, which has a relationship with Microsoft going back to 1991, says Microsoft is now going back on the deal in order to limit competition from Unix. The company's Wind/U product makes it possible for applications developed for the Win32 API to run on Unix operating systems, and therefore increases Unix application availability. Bristol says Microsoft is now demanding unreasonably high royalties, while Microsoft retorts that Bristol is trying to get the court to impose a preferential contract on it. ® See also: Bristol files reply in Microsoft suit Click for more stories
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Rise unleashes CPU for Basic PC, sub-$1,000 notebook

Rise Technology has unveiled its mP6 line of processors, low-cost x86 compatibles aimed at the sub-$700 desktop and sub-$1,000 notebook markets. In a release timed at 5.17am by the California clock, the company claimed to have already demonstrated "a number of Windows-based multimedia applications" running on the chip to the adoring attendees of the Microprocessor Forum today. Workaholics? We got 'em, evidently... The mP6 is low power consumption, and is aimed at what Intel refers to as the 'Basic PC' market - interactive education, entertainment, digital imaging and other consumer-oriented applications, says Rise. "The mP6-based platforms allow OEMs to provide more value and features at a lower cost than performance PCs," said Rise CEO David Lin. The chip has a three-way superscalar design, pipelined CPU and three-way superscalar MMX technology, which according to Rise makes soft DVD playbcack, softmodem and 3D graphics run more effectively. It also has power management built into the core, so can be used for notebook computers immediately. ® Click for more stories
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3i takes stake in cut-price ecommerce developer

3i has made a “multimillion dollar” investment in a UK ecommerce start-up that helps small companies flog their products online. The product, developed by Cobham, Surrey-based Actinic Software, retails at the knockdown price of £349 (EX VAT) and includes “all of the technology” required to implement an Internet commerce solution. A tall claim indeed. But Actinic Catalogue seems to contain the Web basics –- including web site catalogue publication and maintenance, shopping cart, and 128-bit encryption for secure orders. Actinic will use the 3i money to launch a reseller recruitment drive. The 10-strong company notes an “strong upswing in demand for ecommerce solutions in the run up to Christmas”. As is common with such deals, the exact size of the 3i equity investment (stake money and percentage owned )was not revealed. ® Click for more stories
A staffer, 13 1998
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Mostly ARMless…

Now here's something we haven't heard - not for a long time, anyway. There's a UK online news outfit called Silicon.com that was boasting a few months back about its up-to-the-minute news gathering capability. And today, we note it announcing "ARM handhelds to support Windows CE." The story had a familiar ring, so we checked out the archives and, ah, yes, here it is. "For release December 4, 1996. ARM and Microsoft work together to extend Windows CE Platform." Looks like Silicon's reporter got a bit lost on the way back to the office.
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AMD scores major supply deal with HP

AMD has scored a sweet deal as icing on the cake of today's K7 unveiling - the company is to supply the CPU for HP's entry to the Windows-Based Terminal market. According to an HP spokeswoman the CPU is an AMD 486, and as the company says it plans "to establish a premier position around the world in thin-client computing," the volumes for AMD should be significant. A certain piquancy is also added because HP recently announced it had taken out an ARM licence, and would use the chip as a strategic platform for a range of devices, including handhelds and peripherals. Using ARM or StrongARM in its terminals is probably still a long-term goal for HP, but it's likely to have chosen AMD for the first wave of devices in order to get to market quickly. The HP terminals will be out in Europe in early 1999, and according to product manager Borel Setten will add another option to HP's line of corporate clients. At time of writing it wasn't clear when the US rollout would be. ® Click for more stories
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CHS Vobis deal collapses

CHS stock has inched upwards following the collapse of its Vobis takeover deal. In an interview with Techweb, CHS chairman Claudio Osorio blamed the collapse of the deal on Vobis owner Metro AG's failure to meet certain unspecified conditions. Far more likely was CHS Electronics' inability to find a buyer for the lossmaking Vobis retail chain, which had been bundled with PC assembler Maxdata and distributor Peacock, the Metro businesses CHS actually wanted. Coupled with CHS' bombed out share price ( at a 52 week low last week), the deal looked increasingly unviable. CHS offered Vobis parent Metro $320m in cash and stock and another $340m in assumed debt, but according to German reports last week, Metro had begun to prepare an IPO for Maxdata. Following the collapse of the Vobis deal, CHS Electronics' European channel assembly strategy lies in ruins. Failure to complete is also a major embarrassment for CHS -- whatever it says. For it raises question marks over the company's ability to raise capital for future acquistions. In future, prospective acquirees will be much more interested in the folding stuff upfront than jam tomorrow in the form of CHS-denominated share lock-ins. ® On Friday, Osorio claimed in a statement that the acquisition of Vobis "is not closed." He added "the deal has not fallen apart and we are still negotiating." The distribution giant stock plunge to a 52-week low this week as its proposed take over of German firm Vobis lies in ruins. CHS stock was valued at $6.375 today on the New York Stock Exchange, down from $7.31 last Thursday. A year ago the stock stood at $30.75. The company had a brief respite last week when its shares rose following the take over of US mobile phone distributor BrightStar. The current instability in the CHS stock price appears to be a direct result of the uncertainty in the Vobis deal, despite CHS financial officer Craig Toll's claim that it is a result of an unstable European economy. One US analyst said that the longer it goes on and no deal is signed, the more investors start to get edgy and wonder whether or not CHS can actually get the capital for an acquisition. CHS offered Vobis parent Metro $320m in cash and stock and another $340m in assumed debt, but now Metro is reported to be reluctant to include Vobis subsidiary Maxdata in the deal and is considering a public stock offering for the company. Despite all this, CHS is on course for a set of healthy of results, according to the company. CHS is expecting to close the year with $100m in post-tax earnings on sales of $8.5bn. ®
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Memory Corp signs Rambus deal

Memory Corporation is the latest hardware vendor to nail its colours to the Rambus mast. It has signed a worldwide deal with Rambus to design, build and sell Direct Rambus RIMM modules. And it expects to be shipping engineering samples of 64MB DDRAM parts in Q1, 1999. Customer evaluation and production is slated for later that year. AMD last week announced a licence to use Rambus high speed memory technology. ®
A staffer, 13 1998
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EMC ride recession-proof mass storage market

The recession may be coming, but enterprise storage companies are likely to fare well, despite any capital spending slowdown. And EMC will fare better than most, according to recent CIO surveys by a clutch of US investment banks.
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Cyrix, IDT/Centaur, Rise ready low-end PC processors

Pretenders to Intel's low-end crown Cyrix, IDT/Centaur and Rise all announced next generation Basic PC-oriented x86-compatible processors at the Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, California today. Cyrix's product is M3, the first chip based on its new Jalapeno x86 core. According to project manager Greg Grohoski, the design focus was on increasing the bandwidth of the host PC's memory bus, rather than attempt to allow ever more program instructions to be processed simultaneously, the approach taken by Intel and by AMD for K7. Jalapeno is designed for high-speed, 600MHz and up processing. M3 adds to that a built-in memory manager, 256K of on-chip L2 cache and an "advanced" 3D graphics engine. It also supports MMX and AMD's 3DNow instruction set extensions. However, the memory manager, while improving data throughput, requires RAMBUS' RDRAM memory technology. RDRAM may be faster than SDRAM, but it's also more expensive -- in addition to the cost of the chips, RAMBUS levies a 2-5 per cent royalty -- which could limit the number of M3 supporters. That said, M3 is not due to become available until Q4 1999 -- and then only as samples -- giving RAMBUS time to get its technology established. Rise Technology's mP6 family is set to ship sooner, sampling this quarter and going into full production not long after. The company claims the chip offers 15 per cent better core CPU performance than the Pentium II for a given clock speed. And it can execute three MMX instructions per cycle, faster than any other x86 processor. At the same time, Ken Munson, principal engineer on the mP6, said it had a very low power consumption -- unused CPU circuitry is turned off automatically -- making it ideal for notebooks. Munson would not, however, be drawn on the speeds the chip would be available in, nor would be comment on pricing. The initial chip will offer just 16K of L1 cache, as will the next release, the mP6 II, which is designed to compete with the Mendocino version of Intel's Celeron, currently performance hamstrung by the Great Stan's keenness that it not compete with PII. Like M3, mP6 will feature 256K on-chip L2 cache. That's not a feature shared by IDT/Centaur's WinChip 4, however. Instead, according to Centaur president Glen Henry, the chip will simply boast a much larger L1 cache. "There's a 1-2 per cent difference in performance between a mix of L1 and L2 on-chip cache and just L1, but a 50mm increase in die size," he said. Since Centaur's design philosophy is all about keeping the die size down -- and therefore reducing the cost of each chip -- it opted for just L1. Henry admitted previous WinChips were "lagging in megahertz", something version 4 was to address. The new release will offer speeds of 400-500MHz and contain 128K of L1 cache. It also uses a new core that is designed to reduce the likelihood of data not being found in the cache thus forcing the CPU to wait for it to arrive via the system bus. Version 1 of WinChip 4 will go into production in the second half of next year, said Henry, using 0.25-micron technology. A faster (500-700MHz) release based on the 0.18-micron process, will begin production in the first half of 2000. All three vendors' chips will use Socket 7 interfaces. "We won't do Slot 1," said Henry. "It's not where our market is." "There's still plenty of demand out there for Socket 7," added Grohosk. ® Click for more stories
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AMD K7 snatches at Intel high-end crown

AMD's forthcoming K7 processor is set to tackle Intel's high end CPUs head on, with a ground-up new core design, high-speed system bus technology, a multi-processing oriented architecture and a Slot 1 configuration. K7 supports clock speeds of 500MHz and up. Initially, it will support bus speeds of up to 200MHz, using the Alpha EV6 bus technology, developed by Digital, but that will rise to 400MHz in the next release, said Dirk Meyer, AMD's director of engineering for K7. The chip's new core will also feature the "world's most powerful FPU in the x86 architecture", added Meyer, and support 512K to 8MB of L2 cache. Unlike forthcoming chips from Cyrix and Rise Technology, K7's L2 cache is currently off the chip, but Meyer said future K6 processors would bring the L2 onto the die, suggesting K7 may ultimately follow this trend too. Performance of MMX and 3DNow is improved with three superscalar multimedia extension units. Meyer would not be drawn on whether the chip will ultimately also support Intel's forthcoming Katmai multimedia extensions, due Q1 1999. "We'll evaluate them when more details emerge," said Meyer. However, he added, until then the Great Satan Wannabe is happy to continue pushing 3DNow, confident of its head-start over Katmai. "By the time Katmai ships, we'll have over ten million [K6-2 and above CPUs] out there," he said, and predicted total shipments of over 30 million by the end of next year. Meyer also claimed K7 would receive strong support from chip-set and motherboard vendors, and promised K7 boards from "leading vendors" at the chip's launch, currently pegged for the rather wide timeframe of first half 1999. He also said the chip will be made available on a daughtercard containing backside L2 cache and which connects to the motherboard via a Slot 1-type connector. Asked if a Socket 7 version would be made available, Meyer simply said Socket 7 was adequately supported by AMD's K6 series. A further sign of K7's emphasis on the high end is its claimed ability to be easy to use in multi-processor systems. "With K7 we'll be able to attack this market, which we've never addressed before," said Meyer. ® Click for more stories