The Wonders of Computex, VIA, AMD, Intel and Origami

I attended Computex in Taipei, Taiwan, for the second time last week, and already it is the show I look forward to almost as much as I do the Consumer Electronics Show in the United States. The two drawbacks of Computex are the fact that it requires a 13-hour plane trip to get there, and knowing that most of the really cool stuff I see there will never make it to the U.S. market.

First let me give you a sense of what was on the floor this year. I saw lots of designer cases many with built-in, full color LCD displays in the front which could be used as second displays for Media Center implementations. These looked really cool and the displays have come down sharply in price, making the cases almost affordable. In a number of designs, the cooling fans were huge, with some looking to be about 12 inches across. One fan had built in message LCDs which could flash a preprogrammed lit message while the fan was running.

Processor cooling solutions that looked like sculpture were all over the place as were water cooling solutions that looked to be designed for nuclear reactors. There were even a number of new refrigerated coolers which pushed the envelope with regard to how much you can cool an over-clocked processor. LCD displays were everywhere, and I saw quite a few stunning 42-inch displays that appeared to be looking for a home on my wall. I’m glad you can’t actually buy any of this stuff at the show. Even with all these products, though, the story this year wasn’t the products — it was vendor drama.


The big rumor at the show involved speculation over AMD’s possible plans to buy ATI. Interestinly, the same Web publication, The Inquirer, which broke the “rumor” also later announced that it was false. Nevertheless, this speculation eclipsed nearly everything else both companies were doing at the show — and there were strong arguments and views on both sides of the discussion.

On the pro side was the view that Intel was planning to merge the GPU and CPU into one high performance part, which would effectively lock out AMD, Nvidia and ATI. In addition AMD has never been able to successfully compete on the business desktop because it lacked a stable chipset that it both owned and could credibly speak for.

On the con side was that AMD is currently making a huge deal about the fact that it provides choices that Intel doesn’t provide and that much of the really advanced performance work it is doing is going on with Nvidia, which often appears to be a closer partner than ATI is.

What is interesting to note is that VIA, who wasn’t a part of this, showcased its own combination GPU/CPU on a chip design at the show which does suggest that if both Intel and VIA are going in this direction AMD will have to counter at some point.

AMD vs. Intel

Call this Intel strikes back, but much of the buzz at the show was that Intel’s next generation processor, due in the fourth quarter, would be substantially faster than anything AMD has. Some early tests support this conclusion and comments from motherboard partners for both companies indicated that this appeared to be true.

AMD did release a surprise dual socket configuration that would allow it to double up chips to address this shortcoming — but at a rather steep price penalty. Interestingly, dual socket configurations have traditionally been discouraged by Intel for consumer use and this new AMD configuration is clearly a consumer offering. One notable aspect, though, is that you only have to have one socket populated, providing an upgrade path similar to what Nvidia has with SLI and ATI has with Crossfire.

Intel’s Computex booth was full of Viiv logo products. A variety of interesting prototypes clearly showcased that the firm is stepping up to compete for the hearts and minds of the PC buyer again. As I walked through the booth I really got the feeling that Intel was working hard to get back in the game. Much of what I saw was, in fact, impressive.

AMD has had a clear advantage over the last couple of years but what I saw from Intel coupled with what I heard from the motherboard folks suggested they were back on track. Of course, when asked about this the AMD execs just smiled slyly, suggesting perhaps that they’ve got another surprise coming. What that means is that there is only one sure thing in this fight: it is going to get a lot more interesting in the next few months.

VIA’s Visions

Speaking of interesting, VIA, which typically has specialized in ultra small desktop computers and embedded devices, showcased two initiatives. The first involved a project called Vogue, a PC skinning effort where a small form factor PC was modularized and then skinned in steel, leather, or other materials to better match the decor of an office or home.

Models demonstrated these prototypes in a fashion-show like event — and they did kind of look cool (the products, not the models). Their research, much like my own, indicated that buyers increasingly want to personalize their devices and are likely to favor machines, particularly second or third PCs that might be in guest rooms, living rooms, or bedrooms, that better match their own personal tastes and furnishings.

VIA had also retained a designer to look at concepts for future Origami products. Recall that the other name for Origami is the Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC), and is actually a very small, fully functional entertainment/communications-focused device. Coming up with this required real out-of-the-box thinking. VIA’s designer had formed teams of thinkers who took the Origami concept and morphed it into a number of consumer-oriented products. This really got me thinking that maybe we weren’t all being as creative as we could be in thinking about the potential that this offering actually might have.

Pushing the Envelope

Showcasing a range of artistically rendered prototypes, many targeted at women, VIA pushed well beyond what I and most people had in mind for Origami. Their concepts ranged from technology-embedded purses that could share pictures of children and family, to Origami wallets, which not only had keyboards but places for makeup and embedded mirrors.

Super remote controls which could morph into refrigerator-mounted note devices were also shown. An executive version sort of combined two old IBM concepts — the famous butterfly laptop (a very small laptop that came out in the mid ’90s with an expandable keyboard) and the Transnote (a linked laptop and electronic pad of paper). While both of the older IBM products failed it could be argued they failed because the technology wasn’t ready — but it may be ready now.

One of the coolest concepts was a digital movie camera, which had a fold-out screen and full editing station built in. This device would also morph into an e-mail configuration so you could stay in touch and e-mail your creations in real time to your jealous friends and colleagues. I’ll be thinking of these prototypes for some time.

It’s great to see companies like Intel and VIA really starting to drive design again. The PC market needs folks to think out of the box to help create a brighter future of things we want to use and can get excited about. Computex guarantees cool toys, lots of drama, and a lot of imagination, so it’s no wonder that I’m already looking forward to next year.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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