Intel, MS release 1998 PC blueprint

Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. are a step closer to defining the design of desktop PCs in 1998 and 1999.

The companies have made available for final review Version 0.9 of the PC98 Design Guide. The final version, 1.0, is expected by the middle of next month.

PC98, co-authored by Intel, Microsoft and Compaq Computer Corp., defines the minimum requirements for desktop PCs. PC makers build systems according to the guide to become eligible for the Microsoft logo program, which involves cooperative marketing, advertising and branding.

Intel officials estimate that less than five per cent of the huge document will be different from the PC97 guide, but there are a few notable additions, including bus architecture, hard disk type, and performance and management.

Specifically, PC98 calls for faster internal buses and dedicated buses to support three-dimensional graphics, said John Hyde, platform architect in the desktop initiatives group at Intel, in Santa Clara, Calif.

PC makers will be required to implement either a 66MHz or 100MHz internal bus and a 64-bit PCI or AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) bus, Hyde said.

"It is necessary to mandate a separate bus for graphics because 3D graphics need a lot of memory bandwidth," Hyde said.

Entry-level systems will likely implement the 64-bit PCI bus, while more pricey systems will engage the AGP bus. The use of Intel's AGP is expected to further its "visual computing" initiative, which involves graphics hardware, bus architecture and software to propel Wintel-based graphics workstations.

To accommodate the multitasking capability in Windows 95 and Windows NT, the guide now requires PC makers to implement a bus mastering hard drive on entry-level PCs, and SCSI hard drives on workstations. "IDE [hard drives] were fine for single-task operating systems, but not for multitasking," said Hyde.

The guide also recommends, but does not require, RAID storage for workstations. RAID solutions have historically been the domain of servers.

Also new are required manageability features. For example, next year's systems will include motherboards with components that can be monitored through enterprise management software.

Despite Intel and Microsoft's attempts to rid the PC industry of the legacy ISA bus, it will not come to pass even next year. The exclusion of ISA, which does not support Plug and Play, will still be a recommendation, not a requirement, in PC98, meaning that PC makers will continue to build it in. "You can imagine a big, sad face attached to this part of the spec," said Hyde. "We wanted to get rid of ISA in 1998, but we can't do it before 1999."

After January 1999, Microsoft will not grant a Windows logo to PC makers who include ISA slots in its systems.

Although PC98 1.0 will be completed next month, PC makers have until July 1998 to make desktop systems compliant with the design guide.