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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 February 2003, 08:38 GMT
Visions of computers of the future
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent in San Jose

Although the computers that we will be buying next year have yet to be built, Intel already knows exactly what they will be capable of doing.

Girl using a PC at home
PCs set to become digital hubs
Top of the list is the building of wireless network technologies so home computers can act as a co-ordinating hub for all electronics in a home.

Next year's machines are expected to be much better at carrying out more than one complicated task at a time and much easier to upgrade and swap parts in and out.

Also on the list of improvements are changes to the way that PCs talk to TVs and stereos.

PC guide

Every year Intel produces a document called the Desktop Platform Vision. This details how it expects the hardware inside a PC to change over the next 12 months to accommodate the changing demands of users.

The 2003 document defines what desktop machines will be like this time next year.

Intel will only share the full document with the companies that are going to be making the PCs that consumers and companies will buy. But it regularly throws out hints about what it expects future computers to be like.

Intel bases this document on end-user research that studies the novel things people are finding to do with their PC and the difficulties they must overcome to do these things. The basic technologies needed to let people do more and to overcome the difficulties find a place in the pages of the vision guide.

To ensure that the technologies it is backing work well together Intel and its partners build reference designs that use early versions of future chips and peripherals to catch bugs before machines go into production.

The most important changes to the basic design of the home PC will centre around its ability to talk to other devices.

Wireless network technology is likely to be built in to the chassis of the computer allowing it to join, or form, a home network from switch-on.

Entertainment hub

Man with video camera
People editing video on their PCs
Intel believes that the home PC is destined to become the home hub in which resides all the digital content, music, movies and TV programmes, that members of a household collect.

To help this happen Intel is working on ways to make it easy to link a PC to devices such as stereos and television sets. Dumb wireless relays that plug in to these other devices will help the home PC act as a co-ordinating centre.

Later this year Linksys is set to unveil a wireless relay that can pipe pictures or stream video to a TV or send music to a stereo.

Intel is also looking at putting personal video recorder type functions into PCs, so they can be used to pause and record live TV just like the Tivo and Sky Plus systems some people use now.

The PC's of 2004 and 2005 are likely to get remote control systems that let them stream media to other devices.

Home movies

Intel's research has revealed that people are increasingly needing two screens for their PC and it expects that, in many homes, the TV will act as a second screen on which can be shown edited video, slideshows of still images or movies stored on a PC.

Editing video, streaming music to devices and editing pictures take a lot of processing power so Intel expects that hyper-threading technology will become standard in home PCs.

This technology effectively lets one chip do the work of two allowing it to work effectively on several computer-intensive tasks at a time.

Also included in the home PC package will be technologies such as USB 2.0 that let data be sent to peripherals very quickly. Other technologies such as Serial ATA and Universal Plug and Play will make it much easier to add storage systems or upgrade systems to cope with the new uses we find for them.

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