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SPCR’s first WinHEC: Seattle, May ’06

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My first attendance at WinHEC came earlier this week with a 2.5 hour drive starting at daybreak from Vancouver, across the Canada / US border to Seattle, the seat of the Microsoft empire. It wasn’t perfectly clear to me then what software developers mean by “hardware”; this is supposed to be the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference. By the time I left the Emerald City 48 hours later, I had strong the sense that even when they say they’re talking about hardware, software guys really aren’t. What they’re referring to is only hard from their soft point of view.

May 26, 2006 by Mike Chin

My first attendance at WinHEC came earlier this week with a 2.5 hour drive starting at daybreak from Vancouver, across the Canada / US border to Seattle, the seat of the Microsoft empire. It wasn’t perfectly clear to me then what software developers mean by "hardware"; this is supposed to be the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference. By the time I left the Emerald City 48 hours later, I had strong the sense that even when they say they’re talking about hardware, software guys really aren’t. What they’re referring to is only hard from their soft point of view.

At WinHEC, I spent nearly three hours at an extended song and dance (keynote presentations) by Bill Gates and some of his senior staff and partners, rubbed shoulder with some journalists who cover software almost exclusively, wandered through a smallish product display floor of products that mostly want to exploit various aspects of Windows Vista, played briefly with Vista Beta 2 in a demo workshop, and messed with an electric guitar at Gibson’s very cool booth. This is a brief show and tell.


By the time I arrived, most of the participants were taking in the keynotes.
Architecturally, Seattle’s Convention Center is an intricate marvel.


WinHEC keynote presentations: It may be difficult to tell, but those screens are at least 40 feet across.


Alienware AMD powered PCs await for the speeches to end and the shooting to begin.
Such competitions are standard fare at most tradeshow these days.




AMD‘s booth boasted some capable Media PCs. Notebook partner support for Turion 64X2 is widespread, and demand for the solo-core version is expected to fade fast.
In fact, a new logo for Turion 64 X2 has already been launched.






Sleek Core Duo laptops from ASUS, including a leather clad ultraportable S2.



The InSync Speech Technologies microphone array technoloigy for eliminating background noise hooks into Windows Vista’s built-in speech recognition functions. The basic concept of using multiple mics and calculating arrival times to extrapolate the distance and direction of primary sound sources is reminiscent of the SoundMAX Cadenza
Superbeam Array
microphone offered some years ago by Andrea Electronics and Analog Devices.




Transmeta
was showcasing an interesting MS program called
FlexGo, which is most quickly summed up as mobile phone style subscription or pay-as-you-go plans to sell PCs to emerging markets. The TransMeta products’ low power consumption and thermal envelope allows the use of available technologies like a motorcycle battery and fanless cooling without moving parts for high reliability. Analysts estimate that 1.5 billion people who earn $4,000 to $20,000 annually could be potential users of low cost PCs, if the costs of entry are low and monthly costs for connections are priced to fit within their budgets.
Transmeta’s official press release on this initiative.




Samsung has a hybrid mobile hard drive on the way. The samples featured 256MB of flash memory as cache that can be used directly by Windows Vista via its ReadyDrive feature on mobile PCs. It will boot up faster, resume from hibernate in less time, preserve battery power, and improve hard disk reliability. Both speed and energy efficiency are improved 8~10%, which is considerable. The new Samsung mobile drives will come late this year or in early 2007.



A modular water cooled server system by NEC. Certainly becoming more commonplace in servers; this one has the pump, waterblock,, fan, and radiator in one neat bundle for each CPU near the back end.



The Windows Vista Beta 2 hands-on demo notebooks in the journalists’ workshop
all turned out to be running in 32-bit mode, including this Acer Ferrari 4000 Turion 64 MT34 widescreen model. Vista Beta 2 does not seem quite ready for prime time; one user in particular was able to start crashing his machine almost immediately. The end-of-2006 release target holds for now. On this brief exposure, Apple OSX’s influence seemed strikingly clear — even though I have just a surface knowledge of the Mac OS.




Gibson Guitars had a couple of large booths, including one featuring at least a dozen electrics ready to play via headphones and various effects boxes. The scene looked like nothing from a typical tech conference. (Pictured above is a random moment in a chat between wannabe axman and… wannabe fan?) The most electric effect was the call I received on my way back to Vancouver; my name had been drawn as the winner of the prize guitar. That news and the fading jazz sounds of
KLPU at 88.5 MHz Tacoma was a great way to wind up my first WinHEC.

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