Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/660

Comdex Fall 2000 Summary

by Matthew Witheiler on November 19, 2000 4:14 AM EST

Each year, the computer world stops and takes a moment to take a glimpse into the computer technology of the upcoming year. Each year, this event takes place at nearly the same time at exactly the same place. Boasting an attendance of about 250,000 electronic component buyers, sellers, and just plain enthusiasts, the event is not one to be missed. This event is Comdex.

Some has changed since Comdex got its start quite a few years ago. No longer is Comdex an OEM show, but it has become more of a consumer show. And with booth prices constantly rising (many companies pay $50,000 or more for their 5 days of floor space), some have started to question the importance of perhaps the largest trade show in the world. With things slowly turning around for Comdex participants, the organization of the show plans to change to a more OEM atmosphere, bringing the show back to its roots.

Regardless of how the show is conducted or how much floor space costs, there is no question that Comdex remains the one time in the year where companies strut their stuff. Attracting everyone from the behemoth Microsoft to many companies trying to get their name on the map, Comdex is not a show to me missed by companies or buyers alike. For those out there who could not make it to the show this year and were stuck watching the R2D2 look-alike robot on CNN every 25 minutes, we bring you a summary of the events and products seen at the show that do matter.

A view of the show floor.


Even though Comdex took place a few short days before the launch of the Pentium 4, only a few i850 motherboards were spotted at Comdex. In fact, the only major manufacturers that seem to be ready to deliver a Pentium 4 solution are MSI, Gigabyte, and Aopen. Pictured below, you can see the MSI 850 Pro, featuring 4 184-pin RIMM slots, an ATA100 controller, and an AGP Pro slot.

In contrast to the poor i850 turnout, nearly every major motherboard manufacturer proudly displayed DDR motherboard solutions from AMD, ALI, and VIA. DDR seems to have replaced RDRAM as the "hot" technology, as every manufacturer we visited was quick to point out their DDR platforms. On the Athlon desktop side, we were able to gab a peak at more than a few AMD 760 boards, as well as quite a number of Via's KT266 which should be arriving soon. We were also quite excited to see many Apollo Pro 266 based boards that will finally bring DDR memory to the Slot1/Socket370 platform.

Transcend's Apollo Pro 266 solution
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Over at the ALi booth, we got a peak at their DDR solutions: the Aladdin Pro5 chipset for the Socket370/Slot1 platform and the ALiMAGiK1 chipset for the Socket A platform.

The Aladdin Pro5
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Another very interesting (and quite exciting) item we saw over at the ALi booth was a mobile DDR platform. Running a Socket A processor, we were able to grab pics of a prototype motherboard. It is hard to tell from the pictures below, but the platform was actually mounted stacked on top of a regular ATX motherboard. Interestingly enough, the mobile motherboard had a large AMD stamped on it, suggesting that perhaps AMD is perhaps helping ALi make a mobile DDR platform a reality. This system was using Micron DDR SO-DIMMs, but the memory manufacturer TwinMOS was also showing these chips off.



Another curious item we saw over at the TwinMOS booth was 184-pin SDR memory. Essentially, this is SDR memory that can be used in DDR slots. We suspect that the major consumer of this type of memory will be OEM system builders who want to take advantage of upcoming DDR motherboards but do not want to shell out the premium for DDR memory. As we saw in our latest Weekly Memory and Motherboard Price Guide, 128MB of PC2100 DDR memory currently runs about $66 more than its PC133 counterpart. Although we expect this price premium to drop significantly in the near future (manufacturers are saying that it really only costs about 3-5% more to make DDR memory over SDR memory), it seems that TwinMOS' SDR solution may prove to be very attractive, as the price should be only slightly more than 168-pin SDR memory. The 184-pin SDR memory could make a great transition product for many system builders.

TwinMOS' 184-pin SDR memory
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The Gamecube

Luckily, while over at ATI, we were able to grab a sneak peak at Nintendo's upcoming Gamecube game system. Powered by a "heavily modified" IBM PowerPC processor and an ATI graphics chip with integrated north and south bridge produced by ArtX who ATI purchased about a year ago. We were told that the sample we saw was actually only one of about nine Gamecubes out there. We were not able to play the system, or even see it run a demo, but we were able to get a bit more info on Gamecube as well as a few pictures.

As you can see, the dominate chip on the Gamecube's PCB is the ATI graphics processor with integrated north bridge and south bridge. ArtX, the company ATI acquired to win the Nintendo contract, has been working on this chip for quite some time. Although we were not able to get more specifications other than those already published, it seems that the ATI/ArtX team has done their job, as it appears that the Gamecube has some massive power.

The Gamecube will have a number of features that we currently wish more systems had. First, the Gamecube is able to accept memory cards for both storage of saved games as well as what was hinted at as downloadable demos. The feature that would allow such access would be provided by either a modem or a broad-band solution that snaps onto the bottom of the system.

The memory system on the Gamecube is actually DRAM modified to perform like cache. ATI claims that this memory should provide very low latency, high speed memory transfers for temporary data storage, at a fraction of the cost of conventional SRAM (cache). This is one memory innovation that we hope will move to the PC market soon, as it promises to ease the memory bandwidth limitations we find in the majority of graphics cards today.

Finally, we learned a bit about how Nintendo plans on selling the Gamecube. It seems that there will be two models of the Gamecube, both with the same speed but one with an additional feature: DVD playback. Nintendo wants to make the Gamecube very competitively priced, staying away from the high cost, feature rich systems that we see now, and producing a lower cost system with high performance. For these users, Nintendo will have a lower priced Gamecube system that is only a game system. A higher cost model is also planned, and this one seems to be targeted at the PlayStation 2 market as it contains the same features as the lower end system with the additional ability to play DVD movies as well as Gamecube games.

All in all it seems that the Gamecube will be one powerful gaming system. To bad we still have quite a bit of time before it hits the market.


Another technology that had a strong showing on the show floor was the emerging field of biometrics: electronic security that identifies users in a biological manner. This field of technology has come a long way since its infancy just a few years ago. No longer are biometrics devices unreliable and costly, but many of the products we saw on the show floor were easy to use, very secure, and priced competitively.

In the field of security there three items that comprise the most secure system one can have. These items are represented by points on a triangle aptly named the security triangle. The security triangle is composed of: what you know, what you have, and who you are. By far the most common security method incorporated in electronics today is based off of the "what you know" apex. This part of the triangle is used in conventional security devices such as passwords, PIN numbers, and codes. The item on the security triangle, "what you have", is analogous to having a key to a room. Entrance is only granted if the user has a physical object, such as a key. ATM's take advantage of both this method of security (you ATM card) and the "what you know" apex (your PIN number). Biometrics attempts to take advantage of the final apex of the security triangle: "who you are." Largely left untapped, this method of security is perhaps the most secure, as no one can physically be you. Passwords can be cracked and keys can be lost, but physical aspects of your body will never go away.

The form of biometrics that seems to have caught on the most is finger print recognition. Using any digit of a user's hand to identify the user and allow access, this form of biometrics is both reliable as well as cost effective. We saw quite a few varieties of finger print security devices, each one only taking minutes to train and seconds to recognize the user. Below you will see both a laptop implementation of this technology (PCMCIA devices are also available) as well as a PDA implementation. Naturally, desktop models are available as well that offer extreme ease of use, such as the incorporation of the scanning device in the thumb location of a normal mouse..

Another, more expensive form of biometrics is iris scanning. Each person's iris, the colored part of the eye, is unique, meaning that this feature can be used for identification. Irisscanning systems are generally much bulkier and much more expensive, but also much more reliable. One company we saw had an iris scanning demonstration setup, where we were actually able to test out the capabilities of this technology which they hope to incorporate in ATM systems in a few years.

Ideally, the most secure areas will incorporate all three points on the security triangle, having some type of biometrics device coupled with a physical key as well as a password. This may be an overkill for personal computers, but may prove to be invaluable in areas of high risk. For the personal computer user who just wants some added security, replacing a password with a finger print detecting device seems very attractive.


Another area of technology that was proudly demonstrated by many on the show floor was various implementations of wireless technology. We were able to catch a glimpse at products that took advantage of not only the current 802.11b wireless spec but also Bluetooth and HomeRF products.

802.11b products came out with a strong showing, as many mobile computers and internet appliances used this mode of wirelss transport to offer Internet access. Not much has changed on the 802.11b front, and the technology remains targeted at large-scale corporate wireless networks.

Bluetooth, on the other hand, aims at getting rid of those pesky wires that are constantly between you and your computer. As we discussed in our Wireless Future article, Bluetooth currently has quite a large following. On the show floor, we were able to see quite a few Bluetooth products. We were finally able to see a Bluetooth printer adapter produced by AXIS, which allows for wireless printing over a Bluetooth network, as well as Bluetooth cellular phone adapter that allows for the use of wireless headsets as well as wireless connectivity to any Bluetooth network. Also displayed was a Bluetooth adapter for use in the Handspring Visor PDAs.

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On the HomeRF front, Simple Devices had quite an interesting demonstration underway. So far, they have created three products that utilize HomeRF to allow for wireless streaming anywhere in the house.

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For example, one product they have is a box which plugs into any home stereo system. What this device does is receive an mp3 stream from a computer located anywhere in the house and pipes the output into the stereo system. This technology would finally allow for wireless mp3 playback essentially anywhere in the house, no matter how far away the stereo system is to the computer. The device includes a simple playlist as well as a display for id3 tags.

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The product becomes even more powerful when coupled with their Palm Pilot product. When used together, one can actually view all songs on a playlist, see detailed information about the song, and select specific songs to play, all through the mp3 set-top box. One can imagine sitting on the couch, browsing an mp3 playlist, and selecting songs to play from your computer, all without leaving your seat. We were quite impressed, especially with the relatively low price quoted on these products, of about $100 for the Palm attachment and about $150 to $200 for the stereo box. Of course, both of these items require you to have a HomeRF transmitter in your computer.


Other Items

While on the show floor we were also able to gaze upon some technology that can really only be described as "neat." This factor plays a large role in the mindset of consumers, as these products are often the ones that bring the most attention. At this years Comdex, we ran across a few items that deserve a picture and a brief explanation.

First off is the Hitachi DVD-RAM camcorder. Able to record home movies on DVD-RAM discs, the camcorder actually records in MPEG2 format, making it the perfect companion to any home video editing freak. The discs are able to be rewritten as many times as wanted and are able to store from 60 minutes to 240 minutes of full motion video on a single disc, depending on compression.

Also over in the Hitachi area was what could only be described as glass display. This was essentially a piece of glass, modified to have the properties necessary to display images from a standard LCD projector. The image is cast out from the projector and displayed on the glass, which is seemingly transparent without a picture on the display. The applications of such a display are countless, and image quality is great: only when one looks "past" the image can one see what is behind the glass.

Finally we have one of the more curious items at the show. Once again, the Sony booth gathered quite a large crowd with the demonstration of a second generation of their robotic dog, the AIBO. Adding a few more sensors, servos in the ears for movement, a small camera in the head (for digital pictures), and some general enhancements, the AIBO ERS-210 is one step above its older brother. The AIBO proves to be quite a concept, as the dog does more than walk, it plays, learns, listens, and more. It just might make the perfect pet for those who can not have a real dog, but as of now it is still quite a few steps behind it's living brother.


If Comdex is any indication, next year will be quite exciting in the field of electronics. This year's Comdex did not seem to produce any products worthy of being called revolutionary, but it did produce quite a number of very interesting and useful products. The motherboard front appears to be quickly jumping on the DDR bandwagon, providing users with quite a few more options than they previously had. Gaming systems, demonstrated by the Gamecube, are catching up to the speed of today's computers (meaning that they will be only slightly dated when they come out a year or so from now). Biometrics is providing a huge leap in security, at a fraction of the price it used to be. And, finally, wireless technology appears to finally be taking off. With so many "hi-tech" products at this year's Comdex, we can't wait for next year's.

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