A senior Intel executive last week acknowledged what many critics have been saying for a while: PCs have become "junk trucks" of technology that need to be cleaned for improved ease of use and connectivity.
Throughout the week at its developer forum here, Intel officials encouraged hardware makers to tear out old technologies to make way for new ones that support ease of use, lower ownership costs and better performance from multimedia applications like games, videoconferencing and DVD (digital video disk).
"In many ways, the PC has become a junk truck of technology. We just keep adding things to it," Pat Gelsinger, vice president and general man-ager of Intel's desktop products group, said in his closing keynote speech.
Despite giant leaps in microprocessor speeds, users are frustrated at how long it takes to boot up a PC, and at the mass of wiring and serial ports that are needed to plug in external devices, Gelsinger said.
He urged system makers to do away with internal "legacy" technologies like ISA (Industry Standard Architecture), an ageing bus tech- nology that is used to move data around inside a PC. Replacing ISA with the more recent PCI (peripheral component interconnect) bus will provide users with improved performance and system management capabilities, he said.
Intel also wants hardware makers to remove the multitude of serial ports and slots and replace them with USB (Universal Serial Bus), a common peripheral interface designed to allow users to easily add and remove devices like keyboards and printers.
In the next 18 months, the chip maker will also build chip sets that support 1394, a high-bandwidth serial bus designed to link computers with popular consumer electronics devices like DVD players and digital camcorders, Gelsinger said.
Intel so far has shied away from 1394, in part because system vendors were reluctant to shell out the additional cost of including the technology when few peripherals existed that support it. 1394 can currently be enabled in PCs by using separate components or add-in cards.
Some of the new design principles were embodied in a "concept" PC that Intel had been showing off at the forum - a colourful device about the size of an electric toaster and shaped like a pyramid with the top cut off.
The system - which was developed purely for demonstrations - included four USB ports, two 1394 ports, a 450MHz Katmai Pentium II processor, 128MB of memory and an accelerated graphics port. The system was crowned with a DVD-ROM on its flat roof.
Gelsinger rigged up the system on stage to show how easily peripherals can be attached to it. However, when he flipped the on-switch the first time, the machine didn't boot up. A few moments later, an engineer slipped onto the stage and plugged in the power lead for him.
"We can't make everything easy," Gelsinger joked.
To drive the ease of use point home further, engineers then wheeled a trolley on stage with 101 peripherals on it strung together in daisy-chain fashion, including joysticks, mice and keyboards, which Gelsinger connected to the USB port with a single cable.
The hardware changes will come about gradually, and Intel is targeting the start of the year 2000 as the time by which most of the work will be done. Many of the changes depend on a coordinated effort from the industry, another Intel official said.
"What it takes is manufacturers who want to build these kinds of devices, and customers who want to buy them," said Dan Russell, director of platform marketing with Intel's desktop product group. "We realise the industry is not going to move there overnight."