Comdex Fall: The circus is in town

"If at all possible, stay away from Paradise."

Not a gnomic religious tip, but Nevada highway patrol trooper Steve Harney's advice to readers of the Las Vegas Sun to avoid the road outside the conference centre that is the centre piece of the PC world's most important show, Comdex Fall.

Show organiser Softbank Comdex predicts that 225,000 visitors will cram into the city this week, sealing the expo's reputation as the daddy of all Vegas exhibitions. About 100,000 people are expected to travel through the Las Vegas McCarran Airport each day. Over 2,000 companies will exhibit, and the whole jamboree will feed about $341 million into the gambling Mecca's economy.

The crazy nature of an industry where computers are rendered obsolete shortly after purchase finds its match in the thin air of the desert city. New hotels with less than 4,000 rooms are frowned upon; all have casinos and designs are increasingly eccentric. One recent addition, New York New York, is a terrific imitation of the Manhattan skyline with roller coaster ride thrown in for good measure. Older hotels are more conservative: the Mirage has tigers and a volcano, Treasure Island has a mock pirate battle, adding to the atmosphere of fiesta.

Big names from entertainment will attend Comdex, adding glitz to geekery. Diana Ross is down for Computer Shopper's party, BB King will play at Iomega's bash. While Comdex '97 will miss out on key new CPUs and Oses, there remains much to whet the appetite: a new generation of colour CE 2.0 handhelds, FireWire Village, new storage products from Iomega and SyQuest.

Even when the thick carpet of call-girl literature has been swept away and the city returns for what passes as normality hereabouts, the Comdex machine will already be preparing next year's carnival. Many exhibitors have already laid out their towels for Comdex '98, and the build-up is just about to begin.

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