Expo Preview: System Hardware and Storage

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The big story in system hardware is not what was released last year, but rather what was not: a major processor upgrade. As Windows clock speeds continue to climb with seemingly no ceiling in sight, Mac users are beginning to feel stuck in the 500MHz basement.

Thus Apple's major hardware updates last year were, with one exception, matters more of style than substance. Although Apple did roll out dual processor G4 machines, only a handful of applications are optimized for multithreading. And until OS X rolls out, the base Mac OS doesn't get a noticeable performance boost from the extra processor.

Yet the hardware that did come out, most notably the G4 Cube and beefed-up iBooks, were among the most impressive in the marketplace. Apple updated every product in its line during the previous 12 months, and made a major addition in the square-shaped form of the Cube. If Apple continues to update its product line as it has in years past, look for upgraded PowerBooks at Expo SF.

In storage, devices continued to shrink in overall size, while expanding in terms of storage space. With the rollout of devices such as M-Systems' pen-sized 32MB DiskOnKey and IBM's miniscule 1GB Microdrive, storage devices are threatening to become microscopic. Several companies rolled out FireWire Hard drives, and to the delight of Napster users everywhere, 12x speeds, FireWire connections, and burn proof technology became the de facto standards for CD-RW drives. Look for further upgrades at Expo SF, and even more FireWire connections. In addition, OnStream and Ecrix rolled out new tape drives this year, while that may not be the most exciting news for most Mac users, it is a sign that the community is healthy and prospering.

The year in input devices saw two major trends emerge: wireless and optical. All of the major players -- Apple, Microsoft, Kensington, and Logitech -- released optical mice and/or trackballs this year, as did the smaller companies, such as Macally and Contour Design. The Apple Pro Mouse, released at Macworld Expo New York, was second only to the Cube in terms of the buzz it generated on the show floor. Meanwhile, as the big guys duked it out over optical technology, some of the smaller players, such as Macally and Macsense, made inroads in the wireless field, further freeing Mac users from cord clutter. Macsense released an excellent wireless mouse, the AeroMouse, while Macally rolled out the iWebkey, a wireless keyboard. In addition, Logitech rolled out two wireless, optical trackballs this year. Look for even more devices to lose their cords in 2001.

Also, keep an eye out for more choices in connectivity. Although USB 2.0 still has some major ground to cover before it wins any acceptance in the Mac community, Orange Micro is already working to bring the technology to the Mac market. Orange Micro is developing its own USB 2.0 Macintosh drivers and has announced three USB 2.0 products: a USB 2.0 hub, a USB 2.0 PCI card, and a USB 2.0/FireWire combination PCI card.

On a sadder note, amidst the hordes of dot-coms that ran out of money last year, one Mac developer looks as if it's headed for the same fate. Newer Technologies, a company specializing in Mac upgrades, announced that it will hold a shareholders meeting January 8, one day before Expo, to vote on filing for bankruptcy protection.

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