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Wait to See How MMX Shakes Out

November 18, 1996|RICHARD O'REILLY

Q. Now that Intel is coming out with a new kind of Pentium microprocessor called the MMX, should I hold off buying a computer until I can get one with that chip?


A. Intel's MMX technology, due out early next year, will be a modification of Pentium and Pentium Pro architecture benefiting certain kinds of multimedia and communications applications, particularly video, voice and graphics. Other changes in chip architecture, principally a larger cache for storing most recently processed instructions, will boost performance of most existing software an estimated 15% to 20%, according to Intel.

There is nothing in the MMX instruction set that benefits the current business stalwarts of word processing, spreadsheets, databases and accounting. But it may enable new features for even those traditional applications, such as voice synthesis or voice commands and data entry, videoconferencing and graphics processing of image databases.

On the other hand, it should be a real boon to the computer games industry.

Initially, manufacturers will put the MMX chip in their top-end, highest-price models. Over time, prices will come down as Intel ramps up production and especially after its two competitors, AMD and Cyrix, introduce their own chips with MMX capability, which they will do.

Eventually, new programs and new kinds of programs will be optimized for MMX. That means that initial versions of programs touting MMX capability probably will soon be replaced by more efficient upgrades, which will be sold, not given away, to customers.

For those who want to be on the cutting edge of technology and have the money to do it, an MMX system will be the computer of choice. But most people will be better off waiting a year or two to see how it develops. If MMX turns out to be something we all need, prices will fall to the place where many of us can afford it.

Richard O'Reilly. The Times' director of computer analysis, will answer questions of broad interest in this column. E-mail questions to, fax to (213) 237-4712, or mail to Answers c/o Richard O'Reilly, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.

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