Intel banks on Pentium III - Part II

Continued from part 1
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

In simple terms, Pentium III will enhance the liveliness of the Web through:

New instruction sets that will complement the usefulness of MMX technology - particularly the floating-point operations that are key to the delivery of 3-D images. Animated scenes will appear more lifelike and environments will seem more realistic, even when smoke, haze, cloudiness or other relatively subtle conditions are introduced. Executives wanting to buy furniture from a procurement application will be able to "walk" through office suites, see chairs and desks in realistic settings and then make a purchase with a click.

Video images that will stream on screen more smoothly and image decompression and compression will happen simultaneously. The processor will manage frame buffers and other memory more effectively. The object: to display streaming audio and video files without interruption. With truly high-speed connections, the PC hard drive will act as a PC videocassette recorder, storing frames even when a user has paused the playback.

Scripts that will save bandwidth. Images can be pulled off CDs or downloaded to hard drives; then, the application will send instructions to the PC on how to draw from the library of components and use them. As popular games such as Quake and Doom have proven, the technique consumes little capacity, even on 28.8-Kbps connections.

Mathematical formulas that will replace polygons as methods of creating realistic images. By describing how lines will be formed and then setting algorithms for different effects - such as a race car, the sound of its engine, the sound of a car passing and the white noise of wind - realistic and constantly changing imagery will be integrated on the fly. Without files to download, bandwidth will be conserved.

"Increased computing power can convey information more intelligently, and so provide better communication over the same amount of bandwidth," In-Stat's Baron said.

A key basis for this last characteristic is a form of math that in geekspeak is called the creation of Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines. How these formulas, which describe a curving line or a changing pitch, work is not as important as how few bytes they chew up. While the description of all the pertinent characteristics of a Stradivarius violin might take hundreds, thousands or even millions of bytes of data when stored in a file, the same results can be produced with the transmission of somewhere on the order of 2,000 to 10,000 characters of data in algorithms that can interact with each other, according to R. Victor Varney, Intel's director of developer relations and engineering.

"It used to be richer meant fatter. With the technology we have now, richer means less bandwidth, better experience," Varney said. "You're basically trading MIPS for baud," he added, referring to the use of computing power in a machine in place of data being transferred over a communications link.

All told, 70 new instructions have been incorporated into Pentium III to streamline memory usage and improve floating-point operations. The results: better accuracy and less training time in speech recognition software, such as IBM's Via Voice; improved video telephony over the Net; and more visual excitement on Web pages. A new city guide from Fujitsu, Shogakukan and Skyline Software Systems will let visitors to Tokyo, for instance, see where buildings are located, in photo-like reality and three dimensions, and pick a nearby hotel -- on sight. The sensation will be as if you flew over the city and swooped in on the locale of your choice. "What you're seeing now is really a platform that is pretty much bottleneck-free," Varney said.

It is bottleneck-free except for the key ingredient of connecting to the Net: the connection itself. "The fact of the matter is the bottleneck is still the connection," said Michael Feibus, principal semiconductor analyst at Mercury Research in the US. "Until you fix that, no amount of hardware will solve that."

Feibus points to MMX, too, as an example of a technology that created a lot of attention and a lot of personal computer sales -- but did not make much of a difference. "Everyone bought into MMX. You couldn't order a machine without it," he said. "But you could argue today that we're not really using it."

Although Intel is launching Pentium III with hundreds of tools and applications, their existence by themselves -- or even their grouping on a "Web Outfitters" site that Intel will start up to provide plug-ins, tools and site listings to help computer users take advantage of Pentium III -- may not matter. Usage of 3D data maps, live business training or the like will matter, Feibus said. "Pentium III offers a quantum leap beyond MMX," he said. "But it remains to be seen what applications are going to come out of it and whether users care about those applications."

Even if they do, users may not find those applications will work that much better over the connections to the Internet they possess. "This," Creative Strategies' Bajarin said of Pentium III, "will have its greatest impact when bandwidth opens up."

Take me to the Pentium III Special.

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