Mike Maynard, a applications and marketing manager Europe for CPUs at IDT asks if PCs have killed off the NC.
Two years ago, there was tremendous enthusiasm for network computers (NCs). These machines were touted as low-cost boxes running network-based applications, with many people viewing Java as technology allowing systems to be built based on the best processor. Today, we look around and wonder what happened. Everyone wanted to lower the cost of computing, yet the network computer is nowhere to be seen. Despite the absence of the next generation approach, computing continues to increase its penetration of the workplace and the home.
So how has the momentum of the computer industry been maintained? The low-cost PC has resulted in a paradigm shift within the industry. The price of PCs has changed the way people think about computing costs.
PCs can be bought for less than £500 and they still deliver outstanding performance for the majority of business tasks. These PCs are the real network computers, used as a tool to access databases on the network.
For years, the rule of thumb that a decent PC would cost £1,000 held firm. Now you can buy PCs for half this price. The cost reductions have been realised by the commoditisation of the PC component market. Previously, memory was the real commodity, now you have a choice of suppliers of high quality, high performance products for each of the key PC subsystems.
Take for example the CPU. Historically, Intel led the market, with clone manufacturers trailing some way behind. Now, AMD has products that compete in Intel's beloved server market, while companies such as IDT and Rise are designing products that are specifically aimed at reducing the cost of computing.
But network applications have still to take off. The software effort and infrastructure investment required to take a traditional client server application and place the application, with data, on the central server is considerable. Systems of today typically find local storage abundant and cheap, while exploding demand for bandwidth makes it hard to take more of this precious resource to transmit applications from the server to client. This is the trade-off you must make when moving to an NC system model.
So what of the future? Clearly the biggest problem for any system where programs are held on the server is bandwidth. Bandwidth is, however, rapidly becoming abundant, and with technologies such as ADSL it will be available in the home. The war between PCs and NCs will stop, and we will all seek a balance. The best solution will be moderate performance and low-cost PCs, but with much of the functionality and all of the data stored on the network. The need to seek this balance will finally kill the debate about NCs vs PCs, with the industry taking the best of both technologies.
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