DOS games under Windows; Today’s post; Disk I/O tweaking

Overheard: [I’d] rather spend a lot of money for a new top-notch and super-light mountain bike, dive gear or quality clothing than on another computer system. The performance of my PC is just fine for the work I do and the games I happen to play once in a blue moon. My PC is over a year old! Shocking!

–Thomas Pabst, of Tom’s Hardware Guide, in his Duron 850 review released Monday

I think that’s another argument for optimizing your PC right there. If Tom Pabst, of all people, can keep a PC for more than a year, then so should everyone else.

Let’s talk about cheap PCs. In college I lived next door to a marketing guy. In 1994, a couple of years before PCs broke the $1,000 barrier for good, I was thinking about $700 PCs. At that time, 386DX motherboards retrofitted with Cyrix 486DLC processors were dirt cheap, and I figured with 4 MB of RAM and a sub-300 MB hard disk, it would be possible to build a PC for that, and I figured it would sell on price alone.

My marketing buddy agreed. Then we did nothing with the idea. But I still think about cheap PCs.

There’s an article over at The Register today talking about a new motherboard from PC Chips that sells for about $80, based on the SiS 730S chipset. An unnamed vendor states that he can buy these PC Chips boards, slap a low-end Duron on them, put it in a case with the smallest hard drive available, and voila, you’ve got a $300 PC. He’s right. For $80, you get audio, video, modem, and LAN. All you need is a CPU ($60), memory (under $50), hard drive ($85), case ($35), and a keyboard and mouse ($15). It won’t be a high-powered system, but it’s miles ahead of anything we had three years ago and we weren’t complaining.

Now, I don’t trust PC Chips motherboards one bit, but I expect a lot of people will follow this dealer’s plan. This will lead to sales and market share for AMD, but it might come at the expense of reputation. You and I can assume people will blame the inevitable problems they’ll have with these systems on the dealer, or on the motherboard, but historically that’s never happened. People equate the CPU with the computer, so problems tend to fall on AMD or Cyrix, right or wrong. But AMD is hedging its bets, rightly focussing on the business market, where it got its big break last week: Micron will be offering Athlons in their Client Pro line of business PCs.

And speaking of Cyrix, they’ve revised the Cyrix III chip yet again, adding L2 cache. Performance is still lackluster, leading people to predict Cyrix’s demise, but I’m not so sure of that. If VIA can sell Cyrix chips at a significantly lower price than Intel or AMD are willing to charge and still make a profit, there’s room. That $300 PC can become a $250 PC if VIA prices its CPUs at $35 and dealers cut available memory.

Inexpensive PCs done right do sell. Commodore and Atari proved that. Their demise came when they reached the point where they no longer could (or would) sell a useful computer at a significantly lower price than everyone else. The Amiga was tremendously useful, but it was at a me-too price. Here was Commodore, the budget computer maker, selling a computer for twice as much as Packard Bell. Hence its demise. Atari’s price was closer to Packard Bell, but the software compatibility wasn’t there. Packard Bell’s death was inevitable once HP and Compaq started eroding their price territory. Packard Bell had a terrible reputation, but they sold until they lost their price advantage. People aren’t going to settle for a Kia if they can get a Honda for about the same price.


DOS games under Windows; Today’s post; Disk I/O tweaking

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