It had to happen - give the ex-editor of Personal Computer World a column, and sooner or later he's going to start ranting on about chips. Regular readers of this column may remember that this was very much the case a fortnight ago, when I banged on about Intel's processor roadmap. The general gist being: wait until September to buy a PC.
Sadly for non-chip fans, here's more processor gossip, although there's the bonus of alien intelligence news at the end.
September will not just be a big month for desktop processors - Intel is also launching a raft of mobile chips which will match its desktop range in terms of performance. Mobile processors differ from their hefty desktop counterparts by being much smaller, consuming considerably less power and boasting cunning ways of dissipating heat in a small space.
All pretty sophisticated stuff, so you probably consider it reasonable that while top desktops speed along with 550MHz Pentium IIIs, the fastest notebooks make do with 366MHz Mobile Pentium IIs.
Come this autumn, you can buy the first Mobile Pentium III, clocked no slower than the fastest desktop chip at 600MHz. But the really cool stuff comes with what Intel codenames Geyserville technology. Under mains power, the chip runs at its full specced speed of, say, 600MHz, but if you're relying on battery power, it automatically slows itself to, say, 400MHz. This gives users the flexibility of a really fast system at home or in the office, without sacrificing battery life on the road.
Now that's out the way, I can't wait to update you on the [email protected] project.
SETI is the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence, and its at-home project essentially gets you to do the processing with your PC. The idea is that thousands of relatively humble desktop PCs are more than a match for a single supercomputer, so SETI has developed a screen saver which number-crunches while you munch your lunch.
Well, the screensaver is finally available for downloading. I can't help but get excited about this project - it's real, scientific research on my PC. And better still, it's a chance for nerdy PC users to compare results. Not of alien discovery, of course, but how long it's taking their system to process a typical data chunk.
After hearing most fast Intel boxes were taking about 36 hours of total computing time, I felt reasonably chuffed as my PII 350 completed its first run in just under 33 hours.
Checking the stats on SETI's Website shows that esoteric Unix machines were completing the tasks in less than 12 hours, including several Linux flavours. As I completed my second unit, one Michael Dolan had processed no fewer than 1,356, at an average of under 9.5 hours each - I reckon he possibly has more than one system running there.
So where do you stand on this new unofficial benchmark? Let us know at PC Dealer, but only if you're a member of the sub-15-hour club.
Gordon Laing is a freelance IT journalist.
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