16th > September > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Steep memory hike unlikely to affect retail PC prices

The sharp rise in prices of 64Mb DRAM, the most commonly used computer memory chip, will have a relatively small impact on the retail prices of computers, industry sources say. Analysts predict that at worst, some low-end products could be affected -- because profit margins are too narrow to absorb the DRAM price increase. Spot market prices of 64Mb DRAM chips have tripled in the past three months, rising from about $4 to almost $13. Industry watchers were initially baffled by the sharp rise in prices, which apparently began with unfounded rumors of production problems at major DRAM maker, Micron Technology. However, most industry observers now agree: prices had fallen so low earlier this year that manufacturers switched production to more profitable products. A slight rise in demand was then enough to cause shortages and a price increase. "First of all there's a shortage of flash memory," said Jason Tuan, deputy head of research at Taiwan Securities, "due to the strong demand from mobile phone handsets, so quite a few large Japanese memory manufacturers transferred capacity from DRAM production to flash memory." Tuan, and others believe that US-based Micron, probably the world's largest DRAM maker, has had a significant influence on prices this year. The company built up an excess of unsold memory chips earlier in the year. In the second quarter, Micron solved its inventory problems at a stroke by supplying a "significant amount" of 64Mb DRAM to computer maker, Compaq, at very low cost. "In the second quarter," Tuan said, "the 64Mb DRAM priced dropped close to $4. At that time, most DRAM producers could not make any profits at all". Most DRAM makers have suffered significant losses in the past two years. In June, analysts estimated that manufacturers had to sell each memory chip for $5 simply to break even. "At that time," Tuan continued, "producers who transferred their production to 128 Megabit DRAM could earn more than 50 percent gross margin. So quite a number of the leading manufacturers increased their capacity allocated to 128Mb products. Therefore, in the third quarter, when the 64Mb price stabilized, and started going up, many companies had already moved into higher end products... supply could not catch up with demand, and inventory went down very quickly." The effect of the memory price rise on notebook computer prices is "pretty minimal", said Andrew Lin of Jardine Fleming Securities in Taipei, "because DRAM [cost] is not really a huge input to notebook costs. For example, for Acer's popular models, like the 510, DRAM is only about 7.5 per cent of the [material] cost." This is negligible compared to more important components like the LCD screen, which can be 40-50 per cent of material costs. The effect on overall notebook costs, Lin estimates, is around one to two per cent. "Desktop PC systems might see a slightly bigger impact," Lin believes, "since material cost is a lot lower compared to notebooks, but then again it's still minimal -- two to four per cent." However, some desktop PC makers have operating margins of only two or three percent, Lin said. "That hurts, but from what I know they all have long term relationships and contracts with [memory manufacturers] they've all more or less secured a supply of DRAMs... They're buying in such big lots from DRAM producers -- they usually have pretty good bargaining power." ®
Simon Burns, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Athlon price cuts confirmed for 4 October

We have now had independent confirmation from a number of PC manufacturers that AMD will, as we reported yesterday, cut its Athlon prices on 4 October. But the cuts this time are from a position of strength, rather than weakness, according to independent vendors of the products. Athlon products are selling well, in Europe at least. While AMD was forced in the past to cut prices in order to sell products as a result of aggressive pricing strategies by Intel, this price move is part of AMD's long term strategy, we are given to understand. A few days ago, we revealed that AMD is shipping 700MHz Athlons in volume. One European manufacturer, who asked not to be named, said: "Price cuts will happen on 4 October. But they are bigger than you indicated in your article, the prices you quote are for AMD's distributor channel." According to another PC manufacturer in Germany, who also confirmed the price cuts, sales of the Athlon continue to be very strong: "There's practically no business on Intel 600Mhz at present -- all our customers are going to Athlon 600/650." And an insider at Dixons' subsidiary, PC World, said that its Athlon machines were also outselling Intel's 600MHz Pentiums. This means war, and it will be interesting to see just how far Intel is prepared to go cutting prices on its Pentium III processors. It is also likely to use every means in its extensive portfolio of disposals to prevent AMD cutting into its desktop market share. However, that may be easier said than done. All of the sources quoted in the story above sell Intel as well as AMD products... ®
Mike Magee, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel's Vancouver, Cape Cod mobos to cost around $130 each

A dealer has now supplied us with prices and more details of the 133MHz front side bus motherboards Intel's Pentium III/533B and 600B will slot into it. The CC820 (Cape Cod) and the VC820 (Vancouver) mobos use Intel's i820 chipset and will be available at launch next Monday. You can buy them with or without integrated Creative Labs audio and that choice will mean around a $10 difference. Intel also offers additional discounts of around $5 if you buy these mobos in quantity. The Vancouver mobo is described as an ATX motherboard, with 133MHz FSB, AGP 4X, AMR and RDRAM in an ATA/66 configuration. The Cape Cod is a similar configuration, costs around $10 less, and supports PC-100 SDRAM, rather than the still highly expensive Rambus RIMMs. The Pentium III/533B is already widely available, and is likely to cost between $350 and $400 for the boxed part. Intel will not comment on these products until it decides to. ®
Mike Magee, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel gets heavy over Intel name, sues firm

Chip giant Intel has taken legal action against a US firm for an alleged breach of its trademark. It filed suit on the 10th of September against Inteltech Enterprises Inc, in a US district court in Denver Colorado. It is unclear how much money Intel wants for the alleged infringement of its trademark -- that is its name. Earlier this year, we reported that Intel had filed an application to have a loop trademarked, presumably in an attempt to prevent widespread lampooning of its Intel Inside logo. (Intel registers loop to prevent people going inside) Chipzilla is a very litigious and jealous gorilla, and has, in the past, gone through any number of cases to stop people capitalising on any of its trademarks. As we have reported before, this has sometimes reached preposterous lengths, with the company attempting to mark, for example, the letter "i". Intel is used as a synonym for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Oliver Stone's film about JFK. Intel is also used by the US military as shorthand for intelligence. Chipzilla ever lumbers onward, and is an open source nickname, freely available to anyone who uses it... ®
Mike Magee, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Today's Hardware Site Roundup

Kyle Bennett takes the Alpha cooling system for a spin over at HardOCP. There's also an interesting cooling system for an Abit mobo on his site. Has he ever played around with overclocking a Compaq Alpha microprocessor, we wonder. Would it need a chimney? Anand, over at AnandTech, takes a look at the Enlight EN-8950 Extended ATX case, pointing out that the company started out by making kitchen strainers. Anyone who's ever built their own PCs will know that having the right kind of case avoids cuts, bruises and frustration. A site we haven't looked at before, Computing Pros, looks at some PC-133 memory from Corsair. BX Boards also ventures into overclocking with a look at a hefty Swiftech heatsink and fan combo called the MC-1000. This is a beast and a half, designed to chill CPUs. Don't forget Robert Collins' site, Microprocessor Resources. Robert used to run Intel Secrets (much to Chipzilla's irritation, at times), and there's always a heap of useful and in-depth information on the site. Finally, a mention for PC Docteur, a French language site which covers games, benchmarks and other PC hardware. ®
Mike Magee, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Via completes IDT x86 deal as fresh legal action looms

Chipset, and now x86 company Via has announced a definitive agreement for the purchase of IDT's Centaur business. IDT will get $51 million for its WinChip intellectual property, a statement from Via said. The transaction will be completed by the end of the month, with Via's CEO, Wen-Chi Chen, saying that the deal will give it a full line up of CPUs. That frightens Intel. According to sources close to the company's plans, its legal department is readying another challenge to Via. We will have more information on this when it is received. At the Intel Developer Forum, senior VP Pat Gelsinger said his company was more paranoid about Via than AMD. Further, Via has the clout to market low end CPUs at a point which will make Celerons seem as pricey as emeralds or rubies. ®
Mike Magee, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Lav me tender, lav me true

Well, we thought we come across some cool geek gadgets in our time, but this one takes the cake. Or, rather, takes away the cake when the user has... er... finished with it. For now no self-respecting Net surfer, Perl jammer or Quaker need ever break away from the kill or the code for those embarrassing visits to the little boys' (or girls', for that matter) room. We can see the ad slogans now: 'Crap-while-U-code!', 'Shite-while-U-strafe!', 'Wee on the Web! -- the possibilities are endless. Or possibly bottomless, given what spending the rest of your life on the throne might do to your posterior. ® Thanks to our chums over at Windows 98 Central for bringing this item to our attention
Loo Reed, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Overclocking – just say no

You don't have to look far on the Web or in the more geeky IT mags to see loads of "mine's faster than yours" stories where awfully clever people are overclocking systems to within an inch of their lives. Celeron 300As are one of the overclockers' favourites and it isn't unusual to see boasts of these poor little processors being run at more than double their rated speeds. Chip manufacturers in general and Intel in particular have long taken the view that processors may run at speeds higher than their ratings, but then again, they may not -- and as soon as you've tried squeezing more performance out of your CPU by nefarious means, you're on your own -- no warranty. While this probably isn't a major setback for a chip costing less than eighty bucks, blowing up a Pentium III or even an Athlon 600 is going to put the hurts on your bank balance, big time. In fact an Intel insider once memorably told The Register: "Hell, run 'em as fast as you like. When it blows up we'll be happy to sell you a new one." Checking out the favourite overclocking sites like BX Boards (which we rate, incidentally) will introduce you to the wonders of super-duper cooling systems costing more than the CPU they're designed to protect while you attempt to run it at 2GHz or whatever. But they won't prevent the CPU failing -- you cannae change the laws of physics, Jim, as a famous engineer once said. There some nasty problems you're risking once you start upping voltages inside any integrated circuit. While technology sat at 0.5 micron and 0.35 micron, these problems didn't often manifest themselves due to the sheer butchness of the chips -– traces were pretty huge in semiconductor terms. But now that even the naffest CPUs are built at 0.25 micron and the state of the art is a skinny 0.18 micron, we're in what's termed Deep Submicron (DSM)territory. Down here in Tiny Town, scary things start to happen. A lot of the potential problems can be designed out before the silicon hits the streets, but the headroom is reduced and devices become far less tolerant of running at higher voltages than they were originally designed for. Chip designers call this problem design integrity -– reliability to you and me -– and according to those nice chip design people at Cadence, the three main problems are (pay attention at the back, this is complicated): Electromigration This is the most likely reason an overclocker will kill a processor. When the DC current in a line is too high, the metal grains that make up the wire are physically pushed aside by the electron wind. The longer you run the chip at higher than design voltages, the more the metal is distorted. Eventually it gives up the ghost and the circuit fails permanently. Hot Electrons Again caused by overvoltage, when there is a high voltage between the source and the drain of a device, a high electric field is created and electrons accelerate, damaging the oxide and interface near the drain, changing the transistor threshold and mobility. In an N-transistor, the gate is always positive and the shift is always in the same direction. Eventually the threshold moves to a point where the transistor no longer switches and is effectively dead. This problem is exacerbated by the move to smaller technologies as, although device voltages are reducing as sizes come down, they aren't reducing in proportion to the device shrinkage, leading to higher field strengths compared with older 0.35 and up devices. Wire self heat Known to its friends as signal line electromigration, this is caused by frequently varying thermal conditions. The wire heats above the oxide temperature as pulses go through it, due to the power dissipated by the wire itself. This causes mechanical stress and eventually, the wire fails. So now when your Celeron 750 or K6 900 stops working, you know why and you'll only have yourself (and maybe those awfully clever overclocking Web sites) to blame. ® OK, overclockers. Pete Sherriff has laid down the gauntlet. You can reach him here
Pete Sherriff, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Carry your DNA on a smartcard

This will be a familiar tale to most sci-fi buffs, but doctors in Europe reckon that within 20 years, we will all have our DNA profiled, and carry it with us on a smartcard. As the end of the Human Genome project swings into view -- completion is expected in 2003 -- the scope of our knowledge is rapidly expanding. Scientists working on the project expect to be able to trace around 2000 genes responsible for our health and well-being. The potential a DNA database has for abuse is vast. The very idea is enough to fill one's mind with thoughts of eugenics programs, insurance companies refusing cover on genetic grounds, super babies and so on. But doctors, who are not in it for the Hollywood story lines, think that DNA profiling has the potential to do a lot of good. Already, doctors have identified genes responsible for some forms of cancer. People identified as being at risk of such diseases could, they say, be given important lifestyle advice, and could be monitored more closely for any worrying changes. New work is expected to reveal the genes involved in high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Diane Bachelor, at the National Cancer Institute in Holland commented: "It will become practical to diagnose diseases with a molecular chip-based diagnostic test that allows us to develop tailor made therapy. Current diagnostic and treatment measures will become obsolete." ®
Lucy Sherriff, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

UK investors flock to online trading

Investors have ploughed more than £8 million into the stock market through E Trade UK in just six weeks, the online trading company has revealed. According to E Trade UK, it now accounts for just under 0.5 per cent of all trades in individual shares -- excluding unit trusts -- on the London Stock Exchange. At this rate, trading volumes per customer are three times greater than its own projections, the company said. Since the service was launched in the UK back in July, more than 3000 investors have applied for trading accounts with E Trade UK. The service is currently attracting over 400 applications a week, it said. E Trade UK claims it is handling around 200 individual trades every day each with an average value of £2500. It claims that such a promising start is proof that UK investors have an appetite for their new-found freedom to trade in stocks and shares online. Julian Costley, chief executive of E Trade UK said: "What's really compelling is that UK investors are taking to online investing because of its speed, immediacy and all the information to make their own decisions." ® For more ker-ching tune into Cash Register and turn on to our daily Net Finance News.
Tim Richardson, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Student not guilty of copyright theft over links to MP3s

Seventeen-year-old student Tommy Olsson was yesterday acquitted by the Swedish court on charges that he promoted music piracy by linking to an allegedly illegal MP3 archive from his Web site (see Student sued for site's links to MP3 files). Olssen was taking to court by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry's Swedish wing. The IFPI was seeking a legal precedent to allow it to pursue other sites that link to illegal MP3 files but do not post them. On the IFPI charge of music piracy, Olsson was pronounced not guilty. Interestingly, however, the court ruled that Olsson could be guilty of violating contributory copyright infringement laws -- essentially he was arguably aiding and abetting the alleged pirates -- but since the student hadn't been charged with such a violation, it was beyond the power of the court to judge him. That statement does now give the IFPI the opportunity to pursue not only Olsson on such contributory infringement charges but anyone else who links to an allegedly illegal MP3 archive. ®
Tony Smith, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

White knuckle SDRAM ride gets scarier

Updated Reports reach us that prices of 128Mb synchronous memory dropped by a staggering $30 plus over the last 12 hours. But prices of the 64Mb parts have stayed relatively stable, with no significant cuts during the same period. US firm London Computers Inc was last night selling 128Mb parts for $168 on Buy.com, with others trading at around $170 or so. That's a massive drop on the market spot-rate -- currently $220. However, London's prices don't bear very close inspection. You can only place an order for one DRAM part. Try and buy 100 at this price and the counter is set back to one. In other words, this is a loss leader. For more than one part, London is charging $220 per unit. However, there is quite a lot of DRAM trading going on -- in Europe, at any rate -- where DRAM is changing hands for less than the current market rate, Richard Goddard, MD of GSI, the UK's biggest memory broker reveals. "The going price [for 128Mb DRAM] was £143-145, yesterday. But trades were going on at £139-140. Some brokers need their money back, so they are selling at less than replacement cost." He advised PC builders to adjust their prices upwards to reflect rising DRAM prices. "Often they buy two or three weeks of stock at a time, and they are getting caught out by rising prices when they come back to order more." Meanwhile, the raw cost of DRAM rose 20 cents yesterday to $15.40-15.50 per part. Trading volumes for DRAM are very weak today -- trading has ground to a halt in Hong Kong, a major centre for memory broking, while the populace braces itself for a typhoon. ®
The Register breaking news

Falling sales hit Psion's results

Psion's habit of not updating its machines too frequently seems to be catching up with the company at last. Announcing its first half results yesterday, the company conceded that sales had been poor, and cited continuing start-up costs for Symbian as a further explanation for it doing no more than breaking even. Sales dropped 12 per cent to UKP64.2 million, and although the new Series 5mx won't have contributed to the numbers, the machine is a relatively minor refresh to the Series 5, and isn't anything like enough to turn the tide on its own. Psion claims that sales will pick up in the second half on the back of new products, but that is by no means certain. The company has been slow to integrate communications in its hand-helds, and even the 5mx is not all it might be. The company is putting a lot of faith in other new products, but it's not as yet clear there's a market for the ones on the near horizon, the netBook and the Series 7. The Series 7 is a larger format version of the 5, designed to appeal to the consumer Windows CE/subnotebook market. But this isn't a market Psion has much experience of, and it could turn out to be tough. The netBook is more ambitious still, and so far Psion has been having problems in getting its positioning message across. Its specification makes it look like a big brother for the Series 7 (which is a problem for the 7, because potential buyers tend to want a netBook instead), but Psion wants to sell it as a walk-about corporate network terminal. Psion thinks this market is about to take off big-time, but if it does, there will be plenty of rivals in the market (a wireless CE box plus the necessary networking expertise would be fairly convincing) relatively soon. Psion CEO David Levin did however slip in a few useful clues to the roll-out of Symbian EPOC devices from the big cellular companies. The next version of Symbian EPOC, ER6, is due in Q2 2000, he says, and Symbian itself is expected to move into monthly profit towards the end of 2001. Several companies, including Nokia, Ericsson and NTT DoCoMo, are known to be planning Symbian smartphones and communicators, but these dates indicate that none of them anticipate high sales levels for first generation products. Symbian won't start to make money until EPOC devices are selling in high volumes, so clearly the partners reckon on showing volume product in late 2000-early 2001, and ramping up production from there. ®
John Lettice, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Palm preps upgraded Palm V

3Com's Palm Computing subsidiary is set to release an updated version of its sleek Palm V organiser next month. The Palm Vx will ship on 4 October, according to company sources cited by US newswires, and feature more memory (8MB, up from 2MB in the standard Palm V). Palm is expected to drop the price of the current Palm V to $399 and release the Palm Vx for $449. The Palm IIIx will fall to $299, but that still puts it above Handspring's top-end PalmOS-based organiser, the Visor Deluxe, due to ship in October for $249 and with a spec. that matches the Palm Vx. The basic Visor will cost $199. Palm refused to comment on the release or even existence of the Palm Vx, but now we're six months on from the original Palm V's launch, shipping a new version now would certainly follow Palm's past upgrade schedule. You might also expect the company to ship an upgraded version of the IIIx, rather than simply cutting its price, and that may suggest the company is focusing on the executive market, leaving the low end to Handspring -- the firm formed last year by Palm founders Jim Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky. De-emphasising the Palm IIIx will allow Palm to focus on the V for executive toy market and the VII for the wireless data arena. It also sends out a message to potential PalmOS licensees that that company really isn't out to dominate the whole palmtop market and will allow its partners to carve out their own niches. Of course, that doesn't stop the licensees targetting each other, and it will be interesting to see to what extent Apple's anticipated Palm-based entry into the market, believed to offer the company's AirPort wireless networking technology as standard and be styled along iMac lines will do for Handspring's chances in the consumer and education spaces. ®
Tony Smith, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Microsoft is Judas – unofficial

The Register gets accused of attacking Microsoft just for the sheer hell of it, but recent events have made the hacks of Vulture Central seem like trusty servants of the Great Satan. The software titan has –- along with an unholy host of other major multi-nationals -– been depicted in a reworking of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. The Churches Advertising Network has arranged the companies' representatives either side of Christ, in the same manner that da Vinci depicted the disciples. Microsoft is sat in Judas' seat. We're saying nothing. Intel also figures in the piece –- sat where Bartholomew would have been in the original. Bartholomew -– who he? Well, the world's longest running fair was named after Bartholomew -– St Bartholomew's Fair, no less. It ran for 400 years before being banned for being the scene of too much lewd and bawdy behaviour. Hmmm. IBM is also there, completing the IT Holy Trinity. Who would Big Blue have been in the original -– James the Greater, who was the son of Zebedee. Go figure. The other companies featured in the modern day Last Supper, are: Nokia, Mercedes-Benz, General Electric, Disney, Coca-Cola, Gillette, Sony and Kodak. There is a 12th, but the company logo is blank. It would appear that few, if any, of the companies gave permission for the Christian group to use them in this way. According to The Guardian, Microsoft didn't give permission, for fear of causing offence. ®
Penny Dreadful, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

New IT stock listing ignores AIM

TechMARK, the London Stock Exchange's soon-to-be-spawned technology market, will start with at least 170 companies listed. Companies without a three year trading record will be allowed to join, although they must then provide quarterly reports. The companies listed on TechMARK will be drawn from the FTSE 100 right through to the Fledgling index. Big names include BT, Sage, Freeserve and Sema. No companies from the Alternative Investment Market are to be included. Online companies are expected to benefit most from the new list, but it is also hoped that it will attract a diverse collection of new technology companies, from online services to biotechnology. London has some of the toughest entry requirements for its markets, which has led to a number of companies seeking listings elsewhere -- especially Nasdaq. The hope is that this market will keep home-grown talent at home. However, there are no plans for giving TechMARK listed companies any tax advantages, as yet. ® For more ker-ching tune into Cash Register and turn on to our daily Net Finance News
Lucy Sherriff, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Yellow Dog Linux supports G4 PowerPC

Mac software developer Terra Soft Solutions (TSS) said its Yellow Dog Linux distribution is compatible with Motorola's PowerPC 7400 CPU aka G4. The Mac-oriented distribution of the open source OS is currently available in a server-oriented version, dubbed Champion Server. It was recently updated to release 1.1 to add support for version 2.2.6 of the Linux kernel, glibc 2.1.1, egcs 1.1.2, KDE 1.1.1 and Gnome 1.0. That 1.1 release will run on the new 400MHz Power Mac G4 out of the box, said TSS. The company also said work had begun optimising Linux for the PPC7400's AltiVec (aka Velocity Engine) vector processing system. Earlier this week, fellow PowerPC Linux distributor LinuxPPC released the latest version of Linux PPC 1999. That version runs on Power Mac equipped with G4 upgrade cards and almost certainly on the Power Mac G4, too, though that has yet to be confirmed officially. ® Related Stories Red Hat Linux certified for ThinkPad -- sort of Hamburgers try to trademark Linux Nokia unveils Linux broadband wireless Web system
Tony Smith, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

ESS wins Diamond sound deal

Diamond Multimedia has signed chipmaker ESS to supply the sound chips for its next range of PC sound cards. Diamond is ESS's only Western customer at present, and the relationship is being touted as exclusive. In 1998 ESS had the number one spot for PC Audio market share, according to Dataquest. The company's technology is designed to allow up to six speakers to be attached to a PC. Diamond is soon to be bought by graphics giant, S3. It is expected that the company will stay relatively intact, forming a new sound division at S3. The shareholders at Diamond are due to vote on Monday 20th. We will keep you informed. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

AT&T-BT wireless merger to spawn new heavyweight?

Analysis The new buzz around Bell Atlantic-Vodafone negotiations had hardly started, before the merging of the wireless operations of AT&T and BT replaced it as the most high-profile attempt to attain truly global mobile coverage. Interestingly, these two possible deals highlight many of the hotly debated issues among mobile operators. Vodafone-Bell Atlantic negotiations are chiefly aimed at giving Vodafone national CDMA coverage in the US. Vodafone currently has a strong presence in the Western states via the Airtouch network it purchased earlier -- now it needs coverage in the Eastern half of the continent. Time is probably running out. AT&T and Sprint are mopping up customers by offering nationwide wireless coverage and bundling the billing of mobile phone calls with long distance and even internet and cable services. Nextel is still going strong with its own nationwide network. Voicestream has emerged as the fourth contender for the status of a national wireless operator after it acquired Omnipoint's coveted East Coast network. This means that CDMA, TDMA/AMPS, iDEN and GSM all now have more (CDMA) or less (GSM) nationwide champions. Where does this leave regional operators? If four digital standards are now reaching a critical, nationwide mass -- what exactly can smaller operators offer? Not much -- and that's why Vodafone needs to pair off its Airtouch network with the BAM mobile network. Together, they would make up a second national CDMA operator and might give Sprint pause. Separately, they may start to slowly wilt among the literally dozens of regional mobile operators in USA. Whatever happens, Vodafone is stuck with one intractable problem. The European-wide GSM operations of Voda are the envy of the continent, and the nationwide CDMA network Airtouch and BAM fusion might offer would be a strong contender -- but these two standards are not compatible. Getting competitive GSM/CDMA handsets to the market is a pipe dream so far -- so Vodafone can't offer international roaming for its customers, and may be stuck with two third generation digital standards, one for the CDMA and the other for the GSM networks. Not much synergy there. Which gets us into the heart of the proposed BT-AT&T deal, which would combine their extensive mobile networks around the world. The companies have invested in TDMA in USA and Canada - and in GSM in European and Asian markets. And here synergy is just around the corner. AT&T has commissioned TDMA/GSM handsets from Nokia and Ericsson and should get the first models before spring. That will enable the company to offer global roaming with a single handset. Rumours in Scandinavia place the weight of the competing TDMA/GSM worldphones around 4-5 ounces and likely retail price below 400 dollars. This would clearly be a satellite-phone killer in the business travel category. The new BT-AT&T proposal of the Advance alliance puts their mobile operator holdings under one roof and seems to signal clear commitment for the worldphone concept. That should come as good news for Ericsson, which probably has the most to lose if its massive commitment in TDMA-GSM hybrid models would not be enthusiastically backed by operators. Nokia's position has been a little hazier, but AT&T has already signalled its intention to use Nokia as a TDMA/GSM handset provider. The big question mark here is Motorola's position -- the company's TDMA/GSM convergence position has been notably muted. Even more important is this Advance alliance position: "Taking a common position on Third Generation mobile and mobile Internet standards, to converge the TDMA and GSM communities around a set of standards for third generation mobile communications services." This concept of converging TDMA and GSM and guiding the standards into a common upgrade path towards third generation technology has been vaguely bandied about for a year or two. But the British Telecom - AT&T alliance actually has the muscle to make it happen. Synergy benefits for these two giants in purchasing common third generation network and handset gear in the future are obvious - especially when compared to the difficulties Vodafone is facing with trying to juggle its GSM and CDMA networks. In the short term, hybrid handsets should hand AT&T a new weapon in its quest for better national footprint and mobile data solutions to counter the early GSM and recent CDMA introductions of data services piped into mobile phones. Much before third generation technology finally arrives, there are intriguing questions. How rapidly will the TDMA operators start purchasing mobile data "boosters" that start moulding these networks towards convergence with GSM? How will the consumers respond to GSM/TDMA handsets next year? Is Ericsson's belief in the GSM/TDMA convergence now starting to pay off -- after being derided as a pipe dream by many industry observers during recent years? Is this development blindsiding Lucent and Nortel, which seem to have neglected the convergence story and even GSM data solutions like GPRS? Can AT&T now hit back at Sprint by attacking its Achilles' heel -- the lack of a coherent international strategy? ®
Tero Kuittinen, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

3dfx to take on S3 texture comp. in open source move

3dfx this week unveiled the latest new technology to be added to its upcoming Voodoo 3D graphics chip, codenamed Napalm. In a move set to tackle rival graphics specialist S3 head on, 3dfx announced its own texture compression technology, FXT1. And in a bid to grab mindshare from S3's S3TC, the company said it will release the spec. and code the powers FXT1 under an open source licence. FXT1 can squeeze textures down by a ratio as high as 8:1, 3dfx claimed. The scheme uses multiple compression algorithms, mixing and matching the best techniques not only for given textures but for given elements within the overall texture. That, said a 3dfx spokesman, ensures FXT1 can compress textures to a greater degree than can S3's technology -- and still offer better image quality. FXT1 does this by using a 4-bit compressed texture format for 32-bit images that use the Alpha channel for translucency effect data (S3TC uses an 8-bit compressed format). Of course, as technologically superior as 3dfx may claim FXT1 to be, the fact remains S3TC is available now, and is already a part of Microsoft's DirectX game graphics API, making it readily accessible to every game developer, almost all of whom are now using DirectX as their prime game API. 3dfx's way around that is its open source manoeuvre. The company's spin here is that it allows cross-platform game developers to use the technology, while S3TC remains restricted to Windows 98. True, but given the relatively low level of games development on Linux, MacOS and others, there aren't that many cross-platform developers out there. Going open source also allows other graphics vendors to use the technology in their own cards, though so far no one has gone on record to back FXT1. Again, 3dfx hopes the will, and that will raise its level of support above that of S3TC. Open sourcing the technology should also speed its support through the OpenGL API, the main rival to DirectX's Direct3D API. FXT1 isn't 3dfx's only toe in the open source water. Earlier this year it released the drivers and spec. for its Voodoo 2-based Banshee chipset. That was part of 3dfx's ongoing plan to shore up its shrinking marketshare (primarily to nVidia and S3) by appealing to other platforms. ®
Tony Smith, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Sony delays PlayStation 2 so kids can still sit tests

Sony has coughed to the real reason for the delay behind the release of the PlayStation 2. It's nothing to do with hardware, it's nothing to do with software, it's nothing to do with chips. Instead, it's everything to do with shoolwork. According to a report in today's Times, Sony executive Ken Kutaragi told the press at the PlayStation 2's launch that since Japanese schoolkids have to face a stack of exams in January and February, the company would hate to duff up their results by getting them playing games instead of revising. As a parent of two, a straight-faced Kutaragi said he "would hate to tempt millions of children to neglect their revision". And he's dead serious of course. Just think, after all those swotty sproggs bring home top-notch grades, proud parents will be able to immediately rush out and spend their yen on brand new PlayStation 2 prizes... A canny lot, these Sony types. ®
Adamson Rust, 16 Sep 1999
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US surfers want free ISP access

Some 350,000 US Net users have signed up for AltaVista's subscription free ISP FreeAccess in its first month of operation, the company said today.
Team Register, 16 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

UK police to target online pervs

Scotland Yard is targeting Net paedophiles with a monitoring service based on a scheme being used by the FBI. The FBI's Innocent Images squad has led to several successful sting operations. The Home Office reports that over the last two months there have been six arrests of men who were cruising chat rooms trying to attract minors. The idea behind the new operation is to turn the tables, and make the hunter the hunted. Trained agents visit chat rooms and pretend to be teenagers and pre-teens, in an effort to lure the paedophiles into conversation, and eventually into rendezvous, where they will be arrested. According to research conducted by the FBI Behavioural Science Unit, people who commit sex crimes are usually serial offenders, with most having committed thirty or more crimes by the time they are caught, often passing victims around their social circle. The Innocent Images programme has worked exceptionally well, at least in part thanks to the criminals themselves. "They're hungry and stupid," one investigator told The Times. "They won't stop to question why a 13-year-old would be on the Internet in the middle of the day." ®
Lucy Sherriff, 16 Sep 1999
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Ellison spills over beenz

Larry Ellison -- deep-pocketed head-honcho of Oracle -- is one of a handful of investors to have ploughed $20 million into the UK company behind the Web currency called beenz. Although Ellison's personal contribution is being kept under wraps, it's believed to be a sizeable wedge. "As an entrepreneur, I have an appreciation for what beenz.com is trying to accomplish," said Ellison. "My company is all about innovation. beenz.com is clearly an innovator by developing a true global Internet currency." According to beenz.com, Ellison's investment provides a "solid US endorsement of beenz.com's business". The cash will be used to develop beenz on the Web and to market the product and develop new technology. The other beenz investors were Japanese communications and retailing company Hikari Tsushin, international merchant banking group Gefinor Group, French holding company Artemis SA and Euro-American venture capital firm Viventures Partners. "With funding from Hikari, Gefinor, Artemis and Viventures, and Larry Ellison investing his own money, beenz.com can make a strong statement to the marketplace that we are well on our way to creating a ubiquitous global currency for the Internet," said Philip Letts, chairman and CEO of beenz.com. Investor interest in beenz was so great it was oversubscribed 300 times, said a source close to the company. ® For more Mammonite mutterings, tune into Cash Register and turn on to our daily Net Finance News
Tim Richardson, 16 Sep 1999
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US Embassy backs Comdex with spam-fest

The US Embassy in London has denied sending unsolicited email to hundreds of journalists and IT professionals advertising this autumn's computer show Comdex in Las Vegas. In the email sent yesterday, the American Embassy tried to flog its International Visitors Program offering "benefits not available to the independent traveller". The junk email also carried a hefty Word document advertising Comdex travel partner Trade Fair Travel Services. It included offers on a number of different travel and accommodation packages. "This is not really a spam," said Ivor Whitworth of the US embassy. "[The email was sent to] people who attended Comdex last year," he said. This excuse, apparently, makes it all right, but despite the Embassy's assurance the commercial nature of the email has angered many people. One hack put it bluntly: "US embassy spams universe." Comdex is a fully sanctioned event and supported by the US Department of Commerce and US Embassies are obliged to recruit people to attend these events. ®
Tim Richardson, 16 Sep 1999
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US to free 128-bit crypto for export

The US government will later today announce plans to relax the controls the country has long imposed on the export of strong data encryption technology, a White House spokeswoman has told US newswires. Of course, that could imply little more than reducing the list of nations to which strong encryption may not be exported. The tally of countries to which it is illegal for US software firms to send encryption technology includes the likes of Libya and Iraq. That said, the spokeswoman certainly implied that the announcement will centre on a loosening of the restrictions on 128-bit encryption technology. Encryption at that level of complexity is commonplace on US e-commerce sites, but both Netscape and Internet Explorer, the world's two most common Web browsers, can only be sold overseas with weaker, 40-bit encryption. The Clinton administration may have decided that such a limitation has placed an unnecessary limit on the US' ability to become an e-commerce centre for the whole world, not just domestic consumers. According to the spokeswoman, Attorney General Janet Reno, Commerce William Bill Daley, Deputy National Security Adviser Jim Steinberg and Deputy Defence Secretary John Hamre and will unveil the plans this evening. ®
Tony Smith, 16 Sep 1999
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West ready to bail out Y2K-hit third world

The G7 group of nations have clubbed together to offer short-term loans to developing countries that could be hit by the Millennium Bug. Officials from the Western world are concerned that disruption to these unprepared emerging market economies could domino into the rest of the global economy. The fear is not so much of a technical hitch itself, but of the fear of a technical hitch, which could create an atmosphere in which people are reluctant to trade. To ease this problem, the financial community is putting a bit of padding in place in the form of an emergency fund, to boost confidence if liquidity problems are looking likely. The fund will need to contain a sizeable chunk of cash to be credible -- something in the tens of billions region would do. The money is expected to be put in place when the G7 meets with the IMF at the end of this month. How exactly one accesses the cash is still something of a mystery, but officials are stressing its temporary nature. But this Vulture cannot help thinking that if the international community had put its metaphorical hands in its pockets earlier on, when it became clear that emerging economies would have difficulties with the date change, there would not be a problem now. Not so much a global village, but a global shopping mall. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 16 Sep 1999