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Advances in PC Hardware

­Stan Gelber

Today's PC is not your fathers model T! It represents the cumulative efforts of thousands of entrepreneurs whose visions have become realities. The PC of 1997 is faster, smaller, cheaper, and provides more functionality than the largest most expensive mainframe computers of the 1980's. For less than $2,000.00 you can purchase a PC with a 200mhz processor capable of executing over 100 million instructions per second, 32 megabytes of random access memory, and a billion byte plus hard drive.

The devices that have made this all possible fall into two areas, the microprocessor and memory, and the hard disk drive.

The microprocessor (chip) is the heart of the PC and uses semiconductor manufacturing technology to place millions of transistors on an area smaller than a postage stamp. This small size is the key to moving millions of electrical pulses per second around the chip. Needless to say, as we learn how to further shrink the size of the chip and increase the number of transistors, we will continue to increase the speed of the computer.

Memory is where we temporarily store programs and data that we are working on at that point in time. The speed of moving data into and out of memory is also important to overall performance of the computer therefore we must balance the speed of the microprocessor to the speed of memory.

Another area that advanced at an incredible rate is disk drive technology. The speed of accessing the disk drive and the amount of data we can store have increased exponentially over the past twelve years. We have gone from an average access time (the amount of time it takes to position the read/write mechanism over the place on the disk containing the data or program) of 75 to 100 millisecond (thousandth of a second) to less than eight milliseconds. We have also increased the disk density (how much we can store on each square inch of the disk drive) so that now we can store billions of bytes of information in a much smaller physical area.

Today, a computers speed is rated in megahertz (millions of cycles per second). This figure can be used as a rough measure of how many bits can be moved through the microprocessor in one second. Obviously the higher the megahertz rating, the faster the computer. New computers announced by Intel in June are designed to operate at 233 to 300 megahertz (Pentium II) and Digital has created a computer (Alpha) that runs at 500 megahertz.

At a recent Association of Computer Machinery (ACM97) conference, experts in a variety of research disciplines have agreed that for the next fifty years we will continue to see remarkable advances in computing and that Moores law (the power of the microprocessor will double every 18 months) will continue to hold true well into the future.

What does this all mean to you as a user? Should you wait to purchase a new computer or purchase one now knowing that in the near future machines will be available that will offer more capability, run faster, and cost less?

Computer manufacturers have finally gotten the message that we want machines that can be inexpensively upgraded and have started to manufacturer computers using this technology. Memory has come down in price so that machines are being delivered configured with 32 megabytes. And disk drives can be swapped or changed in a matter of seconds, which allows me to conclude that no real reason exists to wait because something better is around the corner.

The following is my recommended buy list.

1. Dell Pentium II 266 MHz 6.4 Gbyte disk drive

2. Micron Millenium 200 MHz 2.1 Gbyte disk drive

3. Gateway 2000 200 MHz

4. Quantex Pentium II 266 MHz.

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