A Year Ago Today: IBM PCs push dual-CPU, USB, MO hot buttons

This story was first published September 2, 1996

IBM will shortly launch machines designed to run dual Pentium Pro processors at prices under £3,000. Exactly what machine will be launched and the exact date, is a secret for the next couple of weeks, but for someone who simply must have the fastest machine around, it looks like a safe bet that you'll be able to buy a dual 200MHz machine before the Xmas rush.

But though the exact details have to wait for IBM's marketing machine to grind through its mill, it's already apparent that the age of the universal serial bus (USB) is upon us. And most interesting of all, that IBM is finally preparing to put its blessing on re-writeable (magneto-optical) CD by using a new Panasonic MO/six-speed CD-ROM drive hybrid.

The new IBM machines, when they appear, will be pretty standard Intel-based designs -- there simply hasn't been time between the production of the first motherboards and now for IBM to analyse them, re-design them, and test them. So it's a safe bet that they'll be sold under the IBM 300 series label, not the IBM 700. And because they're Pentium Pro machines, not Pentium, they'll come with NT or Unix or OS/2, rather than 16-bit operating systems which slow the Pro chip down.

But even between launch in September and shipment in October or November, there are some details which IBM hasn't finalised. Biggest question mark will be: just how do you plug these new Universal Serial Bus devices in? Because the USB isn't a serial port; it's a bus, and you plug all 63 possible devices into the same socket. How? Well, until we start seeing devices, we simply don't know! There will be phones, scanners, sound systems, keyboards and mice, and they'll all go into the "daisy-chain" connector. But will each device have an "in" and another "out" socket? Or will there be a single daisy-chain wire with lots of T-pieces? Nobody seems to be quite sure. It's a standard, you see.

The new IBM machine will continue its alliance with chip maker AMD in adopting "Magic Packet", a system which uses modern network cards which can switch your PC on when the magic packet appears on the LAN; switching the machine off when you go home doesn't mean you can't switch it on again if you need to. Expect Dell, Compaq, and other market leaders to go with this technology before year end, too. IBM calls the technology Wake on LAN.

Expect IBM to package these as single-processor boxes, with an (expensive) upgrade package for doubling the processor capacity, costing well over £600. I'd expect the top-of-range machine, maybe available end November, to be configured as standard with Windows NT 3.51 or 4.0 for under £5,000 with dual P6-200 chips, and 64Mb of RAM.