Electronic Design

PC Evolution Challenges Our Design Creativity

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the fall Intel Developers Forum, San Jose, Calif. Better known as IDF, a few might call it a self-love fest. Still, I found many exciting new ideas and products that will probably have a significant impact on what today we call a personal computer. Furthermore, the developments went beyond the PC motherboard to the examination of system-to-peripheral communications with the second-generation universal serial bus, IEEE-1394 (FireWire), high-end server strategies, and many network connectivity schemes, ranging from wireless LANs to the multigigabit/s Infiniband fabrics.

PCs are no longer looking like PCs. New shapes and styles are possible, thanks to the ever-shrinking size of the logic and the elimination of previously required legacy interfaces—serial and parallel ports, as well as standard ISA backplane connectors—on the motherboard. Now, PCs can be submerged into furniture, be embedded in an entertainment system, or even look like a piece of art deco standing out in the open. Wireless interfaces between the CPU and peripherals, such as keyboards, the Internet, and other systems, also will aid the effort to eliminate the semblance of a PC in the house. Even for standard PC cabinets, designers have taken a hint from that other computer company in Cupertino, Calif., and spruced up the external appearance of PCs as well. Many companies currently offer systems in translucent fruit-colored enclosures.

What visions do Intel and its supporters have for the future? Well, to be honest, there are too many ideas to discuss here. But suffice it to say, with additional CPUs such as the Pentium 4 and the Itanium coming out for desktop systems and servers, and lower-power CPUs coming out for mobile systems, there will be plenty of room for innovative design as long as they are willing to give up their hold on many of the past constraints. What comes to mind here is the old story of the monkey reaching into a narrow-necked urn and trying to remove a large fruit from inside of it. As long as the monkey holds on to the fruit, both the hand and the fruit can't pass through the neck. By themselves, though, either the fruit or the hand could pass through. Unable to think unconventionally and turn the urn upside down to let the fruit drop out, the monkey never got the fruit.

Are we putting ourselves in the same position as the monkey when we design something? Do we trap ourselves by designing with what's familiar rather than stopping, observing the situation, and coming up with unconventional solutions? Can we think outside of conventional wisdom, taking approaches to craft breakthrough solutions that will provide new features and capabilities to revolutionize our lives? I believe we can, but I think that many of us are still hesitant about taking that first step, the next one, and then the one after that. What do you think?

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