Last week I said a few mean things about the hot new trend of upgradable CPUs. Putting the CPU on a card makes it easy to upgrade your PCs, but it fundamentally alters the trickle-down approach many corporations take with PC purchases.
To that, add the problem of vendor lock-in, since no standard exists for CPU board slots. Then figure out what happens to all the leftover CPUs when you’re done upgrading.
So, it may surprise you that I like the idea of upgradable CPUs.
I’m just concerned that vendors are pushing the benefits that users will drool over, even though the best reasons are actually very self-serving.
Imagine you’re a computer repairs Gold Coast business
with a complete line of 286, 386 and 486 systems. That probably means you have five or six different system board designs, plus three or four different case styles. It’s not easy to change a system once it’s built.
Things get a lot easier with CPU cards. All the basic systems you build can accommodate any CPU. You can even use the same CPU card in a desktop or a tower configuration. That makes quick changes or short manufacturing runs much easier.
Further down the food chain, dealers are pleased as punch that they can order the system unit separately from the CPU. No longer do they have to keep an inventory of every cross between desktop cases and towers and 286, 386 and 486 processors. They can build what they need on the spot.
Repairs are simplified as well. Anybody who has ever replaced the system board in most PCs knows that they aren’t designed to be easily removed. Sometimes, you have to take out several peripherals and the power supply just to get to screws that hold the board.
In contrast, a CPU card can be replaced without major surgery. Since it’s as easy as putting in an expansion board, many sites may be bold enough to do more of their own repairs.
The economics of upgrading the CPU on an existing system will depend on how much the vendor charges for the CPU card. Since the vendors and dealers get a lot of the good things from a CPU-card design, they should share the wealth with users.
Compaq and Advanced Logic Research have already announced that they will have a trade-in program for users who want to upgrade.
If the CPU trade-in really knocks a good chunk off the purchase price, it’s a great idea. Otherwise, you might be wise to keep the old CPU card around as a backup in case the new one fails.
Hopefully, vendors won’t nullify the advantage of a CPU card by fusing PC features like VGA and disk controllers into the system board. I’ve given up hope on a standard CPU card interface, though. We’ll just have to live with that dirty bus problem and its dilemma at upgrade time.
There are too many good things about upgradable CPU cards to let the lack of a standard hold it back. Many of those good things only benefit users indirectly, yet there’s no real drawback to CPU cards, unless vendors try to sell them at a premium. Don’t let them. Remember, it’s saving them money.
The ability to change a CPU card, while not always the best upgrade alternative, is another choice that vendors have given to buyers. Choice is good in Web Design too.
So, even if you never upgrade your 386 CPU card to a 486 during the PC’s lifetime, the replaceable-CPU design may have already earned its keep.