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Desktops and Laptops

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Advanced Diagnostics in Windows
Windows Vista will include a feature to detect disk and other component failures before they happen. If this works as promised, it could be a big plus, allowing you to save your data and fix the problem before the component fails.

15-Minute Vista Installations
Jim Allchin, co-president of Microsoft's platform products and services division, claims that the release version of Vista will install in under 15 minutes. Our tests with the beta versions have taken more like an hour, but a quicker install will be very welcome if Microsoft pulls it off.

Superfast Boot-Ups
Adding flash memory to the motherboard could lead to PCs that boot up and load applications more quickly. We expect to see systems with such technology in 2007.

HDMI on the Desktop
The High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) connector is the standard way to link high-definition video components, and graphics cards with HDMI interfaces are now available. We'll see more desktop PCs coming with HDMI ports, making connecting a PC to an HDTV easier.

More Factory Overclocking
An increasing number of desktop PCs that come to us for testing are overclocked, where the processor is set to run faster than the manufacturer's speed rating. This used to be a tweak that only hard-core geeks would make, but vendors such as ABS and Velocity Micro are using the technique to squeeze more performance out of processors.

AMD 4X4 Enthusiast Systems
AMD is pushing a new design for machines aimed at gamers and other speed freaks: Its 4X4 design allows for two Athlon processors on one motherboard--for a total of four CPU cores with existing dual-core processors, and a total of eight with the quad-core chips the company will be releasing next year. 4X4 motherboards will be available later this year.

AMD's Torrenza
AMD is working on a new technology (code-named Torrenza) to connect its processors to coprocessor devices that handle tasks such as processing video, or modeling physics for more realistic games. The new coprocessors will be able to talk directly to the processor at high speed. The technology will appear on high-end systems (such as servers) first, but it could work its way down to desktops.

Accurate Speech Recognition
Though the vendor of the Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech-recognition program claimed an accuracy of 99 percent, in our recent tests the application managed an accuracy of only about 96 percent--not bad, but not good enough. We don't need perfection, but we are looking forward to a speech-recognition system that is fast and accurate enough to replace a keyboard for writing.

Windows SideShow Displays
Microsoft's Vista operating system will support small displays and controls on the lid of laptops. Such screens will show you when you have new e-mail or allow you to look up phone numbers, without your having to open the case and boot the system up.

The Modular PC
Dell chief technology officer Kevin Kettler envisions a modular PC, for which upgrading is a simple matter of pulling out the old component and dropping in the new. Right now upgrading a PC is like brain surgery with a risk of an accidental lobotomy, so we're looking forward to anything that can make it a less invasive procedure.

GPS to Go
At the moment, only specialized laptops have built-in GPS receivers. But as the receivers get cheaper, more notebook PCs will start coming with them included.

More Notebook Biometrics
Fingerprint scanners are already present on many laptops, and we'll see more of them on lower-cost models, providing new ways of authenticating users and securing data.

3D Desktops That Work
Past attempts to transform the computer desktop into a 3D environment have been headache-inducing failures, but a combination of faster graphics cards and processors means that 3D desktops finally may be a reality. Prototypes such as BumpTop allow you to organize files and folders as if they were pieces of paper.

A PC That Runs All OSs
Choosing an operating system should be like choosing a pair of shoes in the morning: You pick the one that suits where you're going. Apple has made progress with Macs that can run MacOS and Windows, but we're looking forward to systems that can run any and all OSs, either separately or all at once.

More Laptops With No Operating System
Lenovo just started selling its ThinkPad T60p laptops without an OS. That's ideal if you're planning on running Linux, since you save a hundred dollars that would have gone toward a copy of Windows you'd never use. We hope other vendors will follow Lenovo's lead.

Another Attempt at Origami
Microsoft's Origami PC concept hasn't been a big success, and we found the devices interesting but flawed. Will the manufacturers and Microsoft take a second swing at the idea? That remains to be seen, but a potential market exists for a device that resides between a PDA and a laptop.

Radical New Designs
Extreme designs such as toaster-size Shuttle PCs and the notebook/desktop hybrid Dell XPS M2010 have shown that PC design is still evolving. New designs may not always work, but anything that gets us away from the boring tower PC is progress.

Revamped Interfaces
Remember how cool it was in the movie Minority Report, when Tom Cruise's character pushed and pulled images around on virtual screens? It's not so far away: Researchers are already experimenting with new interfaces that allow you to use touch screens to manipulate data. For a peek, see the amazing demo by NYU researcher Jeff Han.

Special Report: Tomorrow's Technology

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The Future of OSs The Future of You
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Incredible Tech: Lies Ahead A Look Back
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