3rd > March > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

A year ago: StrongARM gets embedded in Intel’s labs

A lot of the StrongARM engineers may have decided they don’t want to go to work for Intel, but nevertheless Advanced Risc Machines and Intel managed to get together to assure the chip line’s future last week. Intel gets a licence to "produce, sell and enhance" StrongARM, and there’s also a cross-licensing deal between the companies. According to the release, "The agreement signals Intel’s plans to continue support for the StrongARM family of high-performance, low-power microprocessors, as well as plans for future enhancements to the product." But it doesn’t directly say what markets Intel will go for, or what kind of enhancements the company intends to make. "We believe the StrongARM processors have tremendous potential in the market, says Ron Smith, VP and general manager of Intel’s Computer Enhancement Group. "High-performance, low-power microprocessors are essential to the future of a variety of portable devices and other consumer electronics and embedded applications." This, we think, is a clue. Smith’s division at Intel handles embedded processors, and it’s heavily involved in the support circuitry for Intel designs, but although Intel has tinkered with more CPU-like embedded products, they’ve hardly been a major area of focus for the company. Note also that Smith isn’t raving on about pocket computers and smart phones, and he’s certainly not talking about Newton-class machines. Now, the odd thing here is that there has always been something of a clash of strategic visions between ARM and the StrongARM designers. StrongARM started off as a cheap, fast chip that would be good for embedded roles, but was headed off in more powerful directions – ARM customers, Psion in particular, saw it as maybe providing the horsepower for future devices that broke new ground in terms of power and functionality (or, as the techies have ruefully confessed to us, that just ran Java at a reasonable speed). But that Robin Saxby at ARM isn’t stupid. He’s always been perfectly willing to let his customers experiment with new markets, but he’s not going to believe there’s money in them until they take off. ARM’s revenue projections are largely based on far more boring embedded roles in far larger volumes. So maybe StrongARM was the loose cannon, and what Intel intends to do with StrongARM now is far more in line with ARM’s own thinking. ®
John Lettice, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Alpha chip to clock 1.4GHz in copper

Details of the Alpha roadmap leaked to The Register show how serious the consortium is in its attempt to give Intel a run for its money. Samsung and API will move to a .13 micron process in 2001, while the EV68 platform, using aluminium interconnects, will achieve a one gigahertz clock rate by the end of this year. That will be followed by a copper version of the EV68 platform which will have a clock speed of 1100MHz, also by the end of this year. Towards the end of next year, the consortium will introduce the EV7 copper platform, with clock speeds of 1100MHz, while the EV8 copper platform is likely to arrive in 2001 with clock frequencies of 1400MHz. API itself will make 1-2, 1-4, and 1-8 way Alpha boards. The 264DP and 164LX/UX platforms will be replaced later this year with Slot B (K7 and Alpha compatible) boards, as revealed here earlier. There will be a new uniprocessor board based on the AMD-developed Irongate support chip instead of the current DEC Pyxis chipset. Our source scoffed at Intel senior VP's suggestion that the Alpha could not succeed because Compaq could not afford the fab investment. That problem, he said, is solved by the Alpha consortium. ®
Mike Magee, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

K6-IIIs as rare as hen's teeth

Web sites are reporting that supplies of AMD's K6-III are extremely limited. According to the CPU price check at Sharky Extreme, both the K6-III 450MHz and K6-III 400MHz are not yet available in the US. It quotes vendors as saying that they were told it would be several weeks before supplies were assured. The problem is to do with the limited manufacturing capabilities of AMD. Its Dresden fab will not be onstream until September. That suggests that if AMD is still on target for its K7 part, supplies of the Slot A processor are also likely to be extremely limited. Perhaps an IBM Microelectronics foundry could help it out. An AMD representative in the UK declined to comment on the reports. ®
Mike Magee, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Aunty gets into bed with Great Stan of Software

MSN and the BBC's Beeb Web site have teamed up in the BBC's first commercial deal involving site content. Thirteen sections from the Beeb site will be ported to MSN initially, including Top Gear, Top of the Pops, Comedy Zone, Holiday, Radio Times, Tomorrow’s World+ and Good Homes. This number will expand to around 20 in the near future Jonathan Turpin, Commercial Director of Beeb @ the BBC, said he was in negotiation with other portals and hoped that within the next three months a number of other similar deals would be announced. "The make up MSN is a key part of this deal," he said. "It allows us to take all aspects of our content over to their site. It's size is also very important too. We hope it will make our content available to a wider audience." MSN UK director Judy Gibbons estimates the portal gets in the region of 30 million page impressions per month. "In January we were getting around 1.45 million unique visitors to our site, which we think is in the region of 20 per cent of the available UK Internet audience," she said Although neither party was willing to discuss the financial terms of the deal, some US content providers are believed to have parted with substantial sums of money in order to be carried on MSN. The BBC claims it is rated No 8 in Web-related advertising sales, and hopes the MSN deal will boost the number of visitors its site gets, which in turn will do no harm to its advertising revenues. Turpin said that in January the Beeb.com site was getting in the region of six million page impressions per month. ®
Sean Fleming, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Cyrix, Wyse push terminal-on-a-chip

NatSemi-Cyrix and Wyse have jointly announced a WinCE based terminal using the MediaGX processor. The announcement is the result of collaboration started last June, with Wyse releasing its Winterm 3350SE machine. According to Wyse, the 3350SE thin client is its highest performance machine. ®
A staffer, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Olivetti in crisis talks

PC vendor Olivetti Computers Worldwide is heading for a management buyout following an application for court protection against creditors. Sources close to the troubled Italian computer group told The Register it is in serious financial strife and has applied for court protection to keep creditors at bay. The proposed MBO is understood to have the support of Olidata, Olivetti’s close rival in Italy. Olivetti Group sold its PC, server and notebook arm to Piedmont International, an industrial holding organisation, in January 1997. Last year Olivetti dragged its way back to profit after six years in the red. However, according to today’s PC Dealer magazine rising debts are believed to have forced the vendor into discussions of a management buyout,. The article stated that an emergency shareholders’ meeting took place last week, where it was decided Olivetti would remain under court protection for up to three months. It added that the PC group was believed to owe Olivetti Group L88 billion. An MBO would lead to management controlling 55 per cent of the company, with Far East partner Chaplet controlling 10 per cent. A five-band consortium will provide L130 billion for the buy-out. It was also understood former holding company Olivetti Group would invest L50 billion and write off the L88 billion debt. A source within the UK distribution channel said: "Olivetti is a stronger brand in parts of Europe than in the UK. As a result, Olivetti doesn’t have the big brand awareness to go up against the likes of IBM and Compaq over here." The source added that there had been speculation of an MBO since the company made the split with its telecomms and printer business. Olivetti was unavailable for comment. ®
Linda Harrison, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Metabyte unveils multiple 3D card technology

Metabyte has finally issued details of its upcoming Wicked3D Parallel Graphics Configuration (PGC) system (see Metabyte to double power of nVidia TNT). PGC allows multiple 3D accelerator cards to render an on-screen image co-operatively. The technology, which includes hardware to connect the cards and software drivers to make it all work, is similar to 3Dfx's Scan Line Interleave (SLI). However, while SLI uses two cards to render alternate scan lines, effectively doubling the host PC's ability to render 3D scene, PGC splits the image into horizontal bands and dedicates a card to each band. SLI is currently restricted to two cards both based on 3Dfx's Voodoo2 chip-set. PGC, on the other hand, can connect as many cards as the host PC has suitable slots. The only limitation, says Metabyte, is on the PC's ability to keep pumping 3D data into the graphics pipeline. It's not yet clear whether the technology will work with cards from different vendors -- so far, all of Metabyte's demos have been with two cards from the same supplier. Metabyte has also not said when PGC is likely to ship. According to Maximum PC magazine, which was given a demo of the technology, Metabyte still has a lot of work to do ensure each card's on-screen band matches up with all the others. It's also working on getting the technology to work on an AGP bus, both for multiple AGP cards and a mix of AGP and PCI devices. Still, when PGC finally appears, the benefits for gamers will be significant. Metabyte's own tests suggest a minimum performance boost of 40 per cent using two cards. That is likely to improve at the company perfects the technology. ®
Tony Smith, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel SECCs costs more than SECC-2

Chip Goliath Intel confirmed today that OEMs which have not yet moved to the SECC-2 packaging can expect to pay a 10 per cent premium on the parts. The SECC-2, cartridge packaging, comes without a thermal plate, unlike the original slot packaging. Said an Intel representative: "It costs more to make the SECC packaging because of the extra bits and pieces." Larger OEMs are already taking the SECC-2 packaging. ®
Mike Magee, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Two senior Intel execs killed in Uganda

Intel confirmed today that two of their senior executives, Rob Haubner and Susan Miller, were among eight tourists massacred by Rwandan rebels yesterday. The two were married and were based in Hillsboro, Oregon. Haubner was Intel's director of world wide customer support and Miller was a senior tradeshow manager. However, Intel also said that two other Intel US staff on holiday were on the same trip. Susan Studd and Bob McLaurin survived the massacre. ®
Mike Magee, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

UK Post Office confirms crypto service roll-out

The Post Office is to offer to e-commerce operations its services as a Trusted Third Party (TTP) as it strives to become more relevant in an increasingly Internet-oriented world. PO board member Jerry Cope said: "The launch of our TTP service will be a hugely significant development for the Post Office as it means we will be entering a new market. But it will also be a significant development for UK industry as a whole." He added: "We have made a substantial investment in producing the necessary infrastructure by acquiring a licence for functionally rich, strong encryption software and providing the necessary hardware, processes and personnel to deal securely with data." The PO's TTP service will use software supplied by Entrust Technologies, a subsidiary of Nortel. "Using advanced cryptographic technology, it will be the electronic equivalent of sending a signed document in a sealed Royal Mail Special Delivery envelope," said a PO spokesman. "It will enable anyone -- private individual or business user -- to send and receive data on the Internet in the knowledge that their messages are totally secure." Cope's comments were made before the House of Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee, which is investigating e-commerce in preparation for UK government legislation on encryption. Cope warned that ill-considered crypto laws could have a profoundly negative effect on the UK's burgeoning e-commerce business. "If the UK does not have a regulatory regime that meets the need of business, then companies will opt to base their e-commerce operations in those countries which they regard as responsive to their needs," he said. "Some proposals, such as Key Escrow, requiring the release of private encryption keys to security agencies could, if not carefully thought through, cause the UK to lose customers to foreign-based businesses," he added. The UK government is currently considering a crypto policy based on providing strong encryption through a series of licensed TTPs, who would maintain and certify individuals' and business' encryption keys. Making those keys easily available to law enforcement agencies will, many organisations believe, undermine the public's confidence in the system. ®
Tony Smith, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Psion upbeat over year-end results

Psion saw sales increase by 13 per cent for the year ending 31 December to £159.9 million, up from the 1997 figure of £142 million. Pre-tax profit was £23.3 million, up from last year’s £11.4 million - an increase of 104 per cent. Its Symbian joint venture (with Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola) was cited as pulling in some £33 million in sales. Psion’s chairman David Potter said: "1998 was a momentous year for Psion. By forging a key alliance with the world leaders in mobile cellular phones and associated network technology, we have positioned Symbian as the potential world leader in operating systems for mobile devices which access data through telecommunication networks." Analysts have said that Psion fared better in the first half of the year, with investment in Symbian responsible for profit being pulled down by eight per cent in the second half. Psion had also continued to fail to break into the US market, analysts said. ®
Team Register, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Sun to release Sparc, Java CPUs as open source (ish)

Sun is to release source code and cores for its picoJava processor and its 32-bit and 64-bit Sparc and UltraSparc CPUs under its open source-style Community Source Licence. The picoJava source will be first to be issued to developers. It will be made available free-of-charge at the end of the month. Sun will release the chip's architecture specification, programming reference manual, instruction simulator and RTL files on its Web site. In the summer, Sun will add equivalent information and core designs for Sparc -- the UltraSparc date will be posted online by the end of the year. Sun's Community Source Licence permits developers to use the company's intellectual property free of charge for evaluation purposes and non-profit making products. Royalties only accrue if products based on Sun IP make money. "The fees will be very attractive and competitive," claimed Sun's manager of architecture and marketing, Harlan McGhan. They will also be negotiated on a case-by-case basis, he added. Commercial products based on Sun's chips will also need to meet Sun's standards for compatibility. The company has already placed its Java programming language, numerous Java APIs and Jini, its Java-based networked-device connectivity system under its Community Source Licence, and is to issue its Solaris variety of Unix under the same terms. It's a smart move on Sun's part. Not only does it win for the company much of the kudos associated with the open source movement, generally seen as a fairly philanthropic community, but it opens its software technology to the scrutiny of thousands of developers to make improvements. Not surprisingly, those improvements have to be passed back to Sun to do with as it pleases. Of course, the scope for budding chip designers to improve Sun's processor technologies are limited, so the gain Sun hopes to make by issuing them this way is clearly winning over more chip manufacturers to its platform. Sun's line is that the Community Source approach allows developers to get building products straight away without the need to first fund a licensing deal. In fact, it's not quite to kind-hearted. Developers will still have to cough up later, once the product is ready to launch, at which point it will be damn hard to decide to look elsewhere for the core technology if they believe Sun's "attractive and competitive" fees aren't. ®
Tony Smith, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Update 3: S3 up for sale?

Very reliable reports reaching The Register today indicated that S3 is looking for a buyer. The price is not as high as S3 executives would have liked. According to our source, the Savage 3D acceleration technology has not worked out as S3 thought. But the sale involves patents, which S3 acquired in an auction, including patents for Mac-like technology. No buyer has so far come forward, the source said. S3, however, was at pains to deny the speculation. And here is the official denial. Kelly Morris, director of public relations at S3, said: "We get calls from companies (interested in buying us) all the time. We have no intention at all of selling...S3 has a strong competing part in Savage4 which has been adopted by three out of the top five OEMs and the major AICs. We have the strongest IP portfolio in the industry and together with our 10 year cross licensing deal with Intel we aim to become the number one market leader." ®
Mike Magee, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Kingfisher to open online whitegoods retail site

Kingfisher, Britain's sixth-largest retailer and owner of the Woolworths chain in the UK, is to begin offering what used to be called 'consumer durables' (whitegoods to the rest of us) over the Internet. Based around the company's Comet and Darty brands -- the latter is France's leading appliance retailer; Comet is number two in the UK appliance market -- the sites will initially provide an online catalogue for the stores' mail order operations. Later they will be upgraded to full e-commerce sites. The Darty site is set to go online in the next few weeks, said Kingfisher chief executive Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy, speaking at a retailing conference in London today. It's not yet clear whether the company will enhance its online outlets with its own, possibly free Internet access service. Other UK high street retailers geared up for e-commerce -- specifically consumer electronics company Dixons and grocer Tesco -- offer free Internet access to encourage customers to buy online. Last year, Kingfisher's Entertainment UK subsidiary began the group's first foray into e-commerce with a site devoted to video and music sales. ®
Tony Smith, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Reader of the Month: Paul Engel

This month, The Register was unanimous about our Reader of the Month Award. The prize -- a picture of Merced -- goes to Paul Engel, an investor in Intel, who regularly writes about us on influential Web site Silicon Investor. The fact he writes about us means he reads us and we award him high marks for partiality. Engel scored high with the following quotes: "...the source for this article, the YUK Register, has a poor record of accuracy -- or even believability". And this one was lauded by the panel: "Here's nsome (sic) FACTS on the Merced - not warmed over scum from the YUK Register lifted off some Usenet news group." This one particularly impressed us: "And the YUK Register should know - they are only about 12,000 miles from Samsung's fabs in Korea." For use of capitalisation in postings, Engel won our special award for use of capitalisation in postings. He said: "3DNOW is a DON'T CARE - because NOBODY CARES except ChipTECH and Petz". But what swayed the judges most of all, was Engel's posting which said: "If you believe what you read in that CyberTrash, you must believe that AMD's stock was up $2 1/4 today!" For his efforts, Engel will receive a special aluminium mounted plinth. Congratulations, Paul! ®
The Register breaking news

Be signals shift to Internet appliance role for BeOS

Alternative OS merchant Be today tipped its hand on the latest strategy to win support for the BeOS. In a company announcement flagging the appointment of three senior executives, we find one, the irresistibly named Lamarr Potts, has become Be's VP of internet appliances. Potts' brief is to get the BeOS into all those plug and play email servers, Web servers and the like churned out by Team Internet (as Apexx will soon be renamed) and Cobalt. Now, this isn't as daft as it might sound. The BeOS is well-suited to real time video and audio processing. It's also highly object-oriented making it easy for developers to strip out the unnecessary PC-oriented stuff to focus on what's required by an embedded system. It even comes with its own Web server. These features make the BeOS well-suited to embedded Internet applications too, and it's not hard to see it appealing to developers of, say, set-top boxes. We're not sure about Be's claim that its OS provides "a rich user experience for non-PC devices", but otherwise it's not a bad idea. Certainly, Be's had little success in persuading mainstream PC vendors to offer the BeOS either alongside or as an alternative to Windows (see MS licences block Be's bid for PC market). CEO Jean-Louis Gassee's offer to PC OEMs that they can have the BeOS for nothing if they install it in a dual-boot configuration failed to find any takers, largely thanks to Microsoft's restrictive OEM licence. The upcoming Release 4.1 adds some new device drivers, but the BeOS' big problem in the PC space is its lack of compatibility with users' add-in cards and peripherals. Incidentally, Potts' newly appointed colleague, Frank Boosman, has been charged with finding more PC partners, particularly, says Be, in the Japanese market where Windows' dominance is lower than it is elsewhere. All this makes a new emphasis on alternative platforms a sensible move for Be. The only snag is that Linux is well ahead of the game on Internet appliances while Java rules the set-top box roost, and both are probably more attractive than the BeOS -- they're a darn sight cheaper for a start. Still, Be has to make the attempt, and it deserves some credit for trying, even if it ultimately fails. ®
Tony Smith, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Fab 11 contradicts ancient Chinese wisdom

A few years ago, someone pointed us to the ancient wisdom contained in Chinese oracle the I Ching (Legge edition). He said that many businessmen in the orient used this oracle to make their business decisions. In Japan, in particular, the oracle, which uses yarrow stalks, is well esteemed. After his advice, we bought the English translation of the text and were puzzled by such phrases as "You let your magic tortoise go." What, we puzzled, was a magic tortoise and was it very fast? Another phrase, however, seemed to make sense to us. "The town changes but the well does not change." Artesian wells notwithstanding, ground water nevertheless, the phrase makes sense. Amazingly enough, this ancient gem of wisdom has been contradicted big time by fab plants. For example, Albuquerque town council is livid about Fab 11 for using up so much of its water. And Palm Springs, where Intel holds its Developer Jamboree, is in jeopardy because the aquifer in the desert will run out in about 2003. We travelled in our little bus from the Winyard Hotel in Palm Springs to the famous airport (which has a micro putting green in its centre) accompanied by eight Intel techies who all shook their heads and ponytails where appropriate and to a man and a woman said: "So stupid, so dim." So ancient Chinese wisdom is contradicted by Lintel, the combination of Linux and Intel which anagrammed is Lentil. ® Register Fact Fo Hi is the Chinese god of happiness, so giving rise to the phrase: "Fo Hi's a jolly good fellow".
Fo Hi, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

EMC puts great store in the future

EMC today launched its new enterprise storage network (ESN) products in the UK, while predicting it would see $10 billion worldwide revenue by 2001. The high-end storage giant announced a Storage Area Network (SAN) package aimed at centralising data into managed areas. These included its Connectrix ESN system, a fibre channel network device with 64 ports that connects EMC Symmetrix systems and servers. It also launched a new range of Symmetrix storage systems. These have a higher capacity, with over nine terabytes in one system. Also included in the launch were several software packages, including Connectrix Management software, Symmetrix embedded software, PowerPath - which balances channel traffic -and InfoMover software, which adds Windows NT support to EMC's existing software. It also announced the EMC ESN professional services - a move to get EMC consultants to help customers plan, design and implement this new technology. All products and services were available from today. EMC said overall storage demand was growing by 100 per cent per year. With customers wanting to put more data on one unit, capacity needed to be expanded - such as in the new Symmetrix products. Michael Ruettgers, EMC president and CEO, said his company's goal was for sales to reach $10 billion by 2001. 1998 showed turnover at $3,973 million, with net income at $793 million. However, Ruettgers pointed out that even if EMC sustained flat growth, its 35 per cent market share would bring in the required $10 billion. He estimated the overall market by 2001 to be $35 billion, saying there was currently 90 per cent annual growth in terabytes. Ruettgers also said EMC planned 40 per cent European growth. Klaus Eger, IDC analyst, said the market was moving toward SAN, but that today's products were not as revolutionary as EMC was claiming. He added: "EMC's prediction of $10 billion revenue is reasonable. Regarding software, it has been taking market opportunity away from IBM, but the SAN market it still difficult to predict." ®
Linda Harrison, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Dell goes online to sell everything the user needs

Dell is vying for a place in the cyber channel with today's launch of gigabuys.com - its on-line shop selling products from a multitude of vendors as well as the odd Dell PC. The direct vendor's newest site will offer 30,000 electronics products in addition to its own computers - including chips, printers, digital cameras and software. The move into E-retail follows Dell's disappointing financial results for last year in its main PC business. Only available for US customers as yet, the online store is aimed at home and small business customers. According to CNET, the Texan vendor will not actually stock inventory from other companies. Delivery is likely to go via a distributor or electronic reseller. Dell will handle the customer orders. The Wall Street Journal said Dell wanted to establish itself in the accessories market before it was beaten to it by one of its competitors. Otherwise, customers might find what they wanted on other sites. Dell CEO, Michael Dell, said: "They might decide to buy their next PC at somebodyelse.com." In turn, accessories could push punters across to Dell's existing Web site - Dell.com. Dell already claims to get around 2.5 million visitors to its Web site per week, totalling $14 million Internet sales per day. Vendors are expanding their product lines to combat increasingly tight hardware margins and boost flagging sales. Dell recently reported fourth-quarter sales at $5.17 billion, a 38 per cent jump but falling below the $5.5 billion predicted by some analysts. For the first time in nine quarters sales rose less than 50 per cent. Hewlett Packard is also expected to launch an Internet site - selling just about everything - in conjunction with start-up business Ariba Technologies, according to a CMP report. It estimated this market - "from desks to paperclips" - could reach $500 billion by 2002. Robert Cashman, PC research analyst at Context, said gigabuys.com looked similar to the DellWare site, where customers can buy third-party products. Cashman said: "One-stop shoppers wouldn't shop for accessories at a vendor, even if it was a direct seller. This is partly because you wouldn't expect a manufacturer to sell these products, and partly because you would wonder if they could be as competitive as a distributor or reseller." Regarding industry trends, Cashman commented: "Dell is following the likes of Gateway and Compaq. They are becoming part of the channel and definitely changing the way traditional vendors are seen. However, I'm not sure what message this is going to give to corporate customers." ®
Linda Harrison, 03 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

3Com warns of falling profit

3Com has added its name to the growing list of technology vendors issuing warnings of profits falling short of forecasts. The US networking company said its second-quarter revenue would grow by around $1.41 billion, confirming the fears of investors who had offloaded shares on Tuesday. 3Com said it expected earn around 23 cents per share in the third quarter to February 28. Earnings had been estimated at around 36 cents per share. An official third quarter earnings announcement is expected around 23 March. The number two networking vendor blamed falling demand in the US and Latin America and weakness in its distribution channels. Eric Benhamou, 3Com chairman and CEO, said he was not sure whether the decline in demand in the US was temporary, caused by issues such as the Y2K bug, or a part of a problem that could drag on for longer. However, he said he understood his rivals were experiencing a similar situation. 3Com's troubles are systematic of the present market. 1999 has already seen Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and Dell reporting weaker than expected sales so far this year. ®
Linda Harrison, 03 Mar 1999