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Intel and Micron imagine a future beyond flash memory

In the shadow of Windows 10, Intel and Micron announced a new type of persistent memory that’s 1,000 times faster than the flash memory in today’s SSDs. It’s still not as fast as DRAM, but it’s fast enough that it’s going to make things possible that weren’t before.

Intel and Micron weren’t the first to develop something like this–HP has been working on something similar for years–but HP hoped the product would be out by now, and as far as I know, it didn’t happen. It looks like Intel and Micron’s similar technology is going to happen.

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Pretentious Pontifications: Meet R. Collins Farquhar IV

Hello. David’s taking a day off. I’m sure I need no introduction. I am R. Collins Farquhar IV. After writing all the good parts of David’s book and not getting any credit whatsoever, I’ve spent the last couple of years working as a playwright, trying to follow in the footsteps of my slightly more famous ancestor, George Farquhar. It went OK. My ideal job, though, would allow me to sit on the floor all day and pontificate, and people, wowed by my vast intellect, would pay me.
I’m still waiting for the phone to ring. Something is very wrong with this world.

But a good friend did pass me an invitation last night. He’s a French nobleman, the closest thing I’ve found to being worthy of my company. His name is something along the lines of Jacques Luc Pepe “Ham’n’Cheese” Croissant Crepe de Raunche. He’s not quite worthy of my company, which is why I never bother to remember his proper name completely. He gets annoyed when I just call him Raunche. He gets even more annoyed when I call him Steve.

Raunche invited me to the new home he just finished building. “Will you be joining me for cigars and old cognac tonight?” he wrote me. “But of course,” I wrote back. And I offered to provide the music. In typical French fashion, he declined. Rudely.

I was going to fly in my private jet, but Raunche is in the habit of letting his dogs roam free on it. I didn’t want to dirty up my plane, so I drove. Well, actually, I was driven. I couldn’t help but notice he lives off a road called Bentley Park. It’s very appropriate, what with a Bentley being a car for a man who can’t quite handle a Rolls. I told him that upon my arrival, after he greeted me in a gruff voice.

He said he’s already got one.

Vivaldi was playing in the background. How cliche. I told him that too. He said something about taunting me a second time.

I’m still wondering if I went to the right place, because there were no cigars and no old cognac. No new cognac either, for that matter. All he had was Girl Scout cookies and chocolate soy milk. And Vivaldi. He didn’t even have the decency to play it on a tube receiver. It’s impossible to hear music the way it was meant to be heard on transistor equipment. But he insisted on playing it on — get this — a COMPUTER.

Was I wondering whether I went to the right house? Strike that thought. Playing Vivaldi on a computer is just like Raunche. He’s always more interested in trying to show off his computer skills than he is in doing things right.

So we sat around and talked about what he needed for his firewall. David fancies himself the computer expert in the family, but his intellect is no match for mine. He can’t possibly know as much as I know. He doesn’t even know as much as Raunche. So Raunche and I laid out some plans, and I tried not to think about David being out and about, doing middle-class things:

Intel D850MV motherboard (dual processor)
(2) 2.2 GHz Intel Pentium 4 CPUs
Adaptec 39160 dual-channel Ultra160 SCSI controller
(2) Seagate Cheetah X15 36LP 36-GB hard drives
Pioneer DVD-305S SCSI DVD-ROM drive
1 Quantum DLT 8000 40/80 GB tape drive
Asus V8200 GeForce3 video card
Intel Pro/1000 XT Gigabit Ethernet adapter
Microsoft humpback keyboard
5-button Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer optical mouse

Raunche and I argued about the specs for a long time. I wanted Fibre Channel hard drives, but Raunche didn’t like that idea. Finally I relented. This isn’t going to be a serious computer, after all. It’s just going to be a firewall and a router. Raunche asked about GeForce4 cards, but they’re still a little bit hard to find. I wouldn’t put anything less than a GeForce3 in a server-class machine, but I’m not too interested in waiting for a GeForce4. People say we never get anything done and just sit around pontificating too much already.

Raunche said the board would only take 2 GB of memory, but that’s nonsense. I read somewhere recently that Linux will run in as little as 4 MB of memory. Obviously that was a typo and they meant to say GB. So if Linux requires a minimum of 4 GB of memory, we should get 4 GB of memory. Obviously if we build a computer so that it will run Linux well, it will also run Windows well. That’s just common sense. Still, computer hardware has gotten so cheap, he’ll be able to build himself a nice simple little firewall for around $10,000.

I really wish Intel would go back to making memory and high-end video chipsets and cards, and I wish they would get into the SCSI controller business. There are two hardware companies I trust: Intel and Microsoft. Raunche agrees.

With our plans laid out, Raunche bid me adieu late in the night. I’d have liked to have stayed and debated longer, but the upper crust need their sleep.

As I left, I thought it was rather nice of me to drive in rather than flying in. That way I wouldn’t awaken his neighbors by taking off in a jet late at night. Not that they care, I’m sure. One must make provisions to live in such close proximity to the upper crust.

In fact, I’m sure some of the neighbors were disappointed not to get the chance to see my plane. I’ll have to get on to Raunche about having his runway cleaned.



My docs; Apple; Lost cd rom drive

It’s that time of year again. MacWorld time. I work with Macs way too much, so of course I have opinions. If you expect me to withhold them, you don’t know me very well.

Let’s face it: Apple’s in serious trouble. Serious trouble. They can’t move inventory. The Cube is a bust–unexpandable, defect-ridden, and overpriced. The low-end G4 tower costs less than the Cube but offers better expandability.  Buying a Cube is like marrying a gorgeous airhead. After the looks fade in a few years, you’re permanently attached to an airhead. So people buy a G4 tower, which has better expandability, or they get an iMac, which costs less.

Unfortunately, that gorgeous airhead metaphor goes a long way with Apple. The Mac’s current product line is more about aesthetics than anything else. So they’ve got glitzy, glamorous cases (not everyone’s cup of tea, but hey, I hear some people lust after Britney Spears too), but they’re saddled with underpowered processors dragged down by an operating system less sophisticated under the hood than the OS Commodore shipped with the first Amiga in 1985. I don’t care if your PowerPC is more efficient than an equivalently-clocked Pentium IV (so’s a VIA Cyrix III but no one’s talking about it), because if your OS can’t keep that CPU fed with a steady stream of tasks, it just lost its real-world advantage.

But let’s set technical merit aside. Let’s just look at pure practicalities. You can buy an iMac for $799. Or, if you’re content with a low-end computer, for the same amount of money you can buy a low-end eMachine and pair it up with a 19-inch NEC monitor and still have a hundred bucks left over to put towards your printer. Yeah, so the eMachine doesn’t have the iMac’s glitzy looks. I’ll trade glitz for a 19-inch monitor. Try working with a 19-inch and then switch to a 15-inch like the iMac has. You’ll notice a difference.

So the eMachine will be obsolete in a year? So will the iMac. You can spend $399 for an accelerator board for your iMac. Or you can spend $399 for a replacement eMachine (the 19-inch monitor will still be nice for several years) and get a hard drive and memory upgrade while you’re at it.

On the high end, you’ve got the PowerMac G4 tower. For $3499, you get a 733 MHz CPU, 256 MB RAM, 60 GB HD, a DVD-R/CD-R combo drive, internal 56K modem, gigabit Ethernet you won’t use, and an nVidia GeForce 2 MX card. And no monitor. Software? Just the OS and iMovie, which is a fun toy. You can order one of these glitzy new Macs today, but Apple won’t ship it for a couple of months.

Still, nice specs. For thirty-five hundred bucks they’d better be nice! Gimme thirty-five hundred smackers and I can build you something fantabulous.

But I’m not in the PC biz, so let’s see what Micron might give me for $3500. For $3514, I configured a Micron ClientPro DX5000. It has dual 800 MHz Pentium III CPUs (and an operating system that actually uses both CPUs!), 256 MB of RDRAM, a 7200 RPM 60 GB hard drive, a DVD-ROM and CD-RW (Micron doesn’t offer DVD-R, but you can get it third-party if you must have one), a fabulous Sound Blaster Live! card, a 64 MB nVidia GeForce 2 MX, and in keeping with Apple tradition, no monitor. I skipped the modem because Micron lets me do that. If you must have a modem and stay under budget, you can throttle back to dual 766 MHz CPUs and add a 56K modem for $79. The computer also includes Intel 10/100 Ethernet, Windows 2000, and Office 2000.

And you can have it next week, if not sooner.

I went back to try to configure a 1.2 GHz AMD Athlon-based system, and I couldn’t get it over $2500. So just figure you can get a machine with about the same specs, plus a 19-inch monitor and a bunch more memory.

Cut-throat competition in PC land means you get a whole lot more bang for your buck with a PC. And PC upgrades are cheap. A Mac upgrade typically costs $400. With PCs you can often just replace a CPU for one or two hundred bucks down the road. And switching out a motherboard is no ordeal–they’re pretty much standardized at this point, and PC motherboards are cheap. No matter what you want, you’re looking at $100-$150. Apple makes it really hard to get motherboard upgrades before the machines are obsolete.

It’s no surprise at all to me that the Mac OS is now the third most-common OS on the desktop (fourth if you count Windows 9x and Windows NT/2000 as separate platforms), behind Microsoft’s offerings and Linux. The hardware is more powerful (don’t talk to me about the Pentium 4–we all know it’s a dog, that’s why only one percent of us are buying it), if only by brute force, and it’s cheaper to buy and far cheaper to maintain.

Apple’s just gonna have to abandon the glitz and get their prices down. Or go back to multiple product lines–one glitzy line for people who like that kind of thing, and one back-to-basics line that uses standard ATX cases and costs $100 less off the top just because of it. Apple will never get its motherboard price down to Intel’s range, unless they can get Motorola to license the Alpha processor bus so they can use the same chipsets AMD uses. I seriously doubt they’ll do any of those things.

OS X will finally start to address the technical deficiencies, but an awful lot of Mac veterans aren’t happy with X.

Frankly, it’s going to take a lot to turn Apple around and make it the force it once was. I don’t think Steve Jobs has it in him, and I’m not sure the rest of the company does either, even if they were to get new leadership overnight. (There’s pressure to bring back the legendary Steve Wozniak, the mastermind behind the Apple II who made Apple great in the 1970s and 1980s.)

I don’t think they’ll turn around because I don’t think they care. They’ll probably always exist as a niche player, selling high-priced overdesigned machines to people who like that sort of thing, just as Jaguar exists as a niche player, selling high-priced swanky cars to people who like that sort of thing. And I think the company as a whole realizes that and is content with it. But Jaguar’s not an independent company anymore, nor is it a dominant force in the auto industry. I think the same fate is waiting for Apple.


My docs; Apple; Lost cd rom drive