What Will Merlin Require from US?

As most of you no doubt know, the Merlin beta began shipping late last month. If you are one of the lucky people who was in a position of influence or who was chosen from the on-line sign up site you're probably happily talking to your computer and gazing at those lovely coloured notebook tabs right now. If you're not one of those people, you've probably come here looking for more information about the elusive bird. Fear not, we'll deliver it in our special Merlin Supplement posted right here by July 5th!

Many people have recently begun arguing about the hardware Merlin will demand. Many are complaining that it will be too much and worrying that IBM is about to shoot itself in the foot. Let's step back from the emotion for a minute and think about the situation.

IBM doesn't seem to be playing the same game they did with Warp 3.0 when it was released. As I sit looking at the box of red spine Warp on my desk, the unbelievable claim that it runs in, "4MB of random access memory (RAM)," stares back at me. OK, I know after almost two years of playing with it that I could get it to run in 4 meg, but let's not kid ourselves. For the average user, that would not be possible or desirable. It's bad enough in 8 meg!

IBM has been more honest so far with Merlin and has admitted up front that you will want 16 meg of RAM if you are not going to install the VoiceType capabilities, at least 24 meg if you are. They also clearly say that you'll need at least a Pentium, preferably a fast one if you want to take advantage of VoiceType. Oh, and don't forget lots of HD space (about 300+ meg). I, for one, applaud their honesty.

But what about those of us who don't have a machine up to the task? Where does that leave us? Well, I don't think the situation is as bad a problem as many believe.

If you don't have adequate hardware for Merlin, your first option is to upgrade your system. First, let's check the prices for memory. Here in Canada we pay slightly more for RAM (after exchange) than in the States, but not a lot. Even here prices are in the cellar. A recent ad clipped from a local paper shows that 16 meg of RAM can be had for less than $200. Assuming you already have at least 8 meg, you can upgrade to VoiceType levels for a couple hundred bucks Canadian. I've been told this amount of memory can be had for close to $100 in the US.

Hard drive space? I too was feeling the pinch on my hard driven hard drive lately so I picked up an extra Gigabyte just this week. It set me back $255 Canadian (it installed flawlessly and seems to be running smoothly). Some drives may be a little higher in price but clearly HD space isn't too expensive these days.

Processor? Pentiums themselves are also rather cheap lately ($229 Canadian for a P100 chip) but assuming you don't want to (or can't) swap CPUs, a whole new Pentium 100 motherboard with PCI bus will set you back about $430 Canadian. That's getting up there but still, it's not that much.

But what if you have to upgrade all three? Or what if upgrading your motherboard means you would need a new video card to fit the PCI slot? Well, let's look at prices for whole systems. Again, checking only one ad in my local paper we see that a system with:

costs $2128 Canadian. This is about $1575 US at today's exchange rate. This isn't enough RAM to use VoiceType but otherwise it's plenty of horsepower and, as I mentioned above, another 16 meg is only $200 ($98 for another 8 meg). So obviously a machine up to Merlin's standards is within the reach of the average consumer today.

Also, you might remember that Merlin won't actually be available to the people buying these computers for at least 3 months. Obviously prices will continue to drop over the next quarter and by the time OS/2 Warp v4.0 (or whatever it is finally called) ships I strongly suspect that anyone who has purchased a system in the previous three months will either have the hardware to run all its bells and whistles or will be about $100 away from that level.

So does this sound like a of price prohibitive bullet that IBM is aiming at its foot? Personally, I don't think so. Yes Merlin will require some potent machinery, but that is the price of powerful toys. Many people act as if they've been insulted because the VoiceType technology won't run on their 486 with 16 meg of RAM. As unfortunate as it may be, this is just a fact of life. Powerful features require powerful hardware.

People should remember that there is still a long time (in computer terms) before the general public will get their hands on Merlin and what seems steep now, may not be then. And they should do less complaining when IBM offers such powerful features without charging extra for them.

If you don't have the hardware now, it's likely only a few hundred dollars away.

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