January 9, 2001

By Karen Kenworthy


I love my Mom. So last week I mentioned that she finally has an e-mail address. Many of you were kind enough to drop her a note, welcoming her to the 'Net. I didn't tell her you'd be writing, because I wanted it to be a surprise.

Well, about a day after last week's note was mailed, Mom called to say she'd received over 100 new messages in just a couple of days! She was so happy. But why, she wondered, were all the messages just one line long?

Yep. Mom was just seeing the subject line of each message. Her e-mail client displays that, and waits for you to click the subject line before displaying the full message text. I thought I showed her how to see the body of her e-mail messages when I was there for Christmas. But I guess I didn't do a very good job. :(

Fortunately, she's got it all figured out now, and loves her e-mail. If you'd like to drop her a note, or resend one she might have missed last week, her e- mail address is mom@teddybear.com. And if you can, be sure to tell her what I do for a living. I think she's ready to understand, now. :)

Frank Lloyd Wright Inside

Mom wasn't the only one to hear from you last week. The release of the new Winmag.com Computer Profiler also prompted a lot of you to write. As you may recall, the Profiler is a little program that discovers and displays dozens of facts about your PC.

One of the tidbits the program discloses is your computer's "Processor Architecture." The processor, of course, is your computer's Central Processing Unit, or CPU. This chip is the thinking part of your PC, the place where numbers are added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided. The CPU also compares text and numbers, makes decisions, and gives orders to the rest of your PC.

Over the years, a lot of companies and bright individuals have designed CPUs. Each design differs from the others in one or more ways. Some CPUs perform computations on eight binary digits at a time, for example. Of course, those designs are collectively called "8-bit CPUs." More recently, CPUs that can manipulate 16, 32, and even 64 bits at once have become common. Today's PCs mostly contain 32-bit CPUs, while low-cost 64-bit CPUs are just around the corner.

But CPU designs differ in other, subtler, ways too. Some CPUs, for example, have special features that allow them to process text very efficiently. Other CPUs specialize in the sorts of calculations needed to display detailed computer graphics. The numbers assigned to each CPU function, what designers and programmers call OP Codes (Operation Code) or machine instructions, differ too. So do the ways the CPUs access memory, and other circuits that make up a PC.

Designing a CPU is hard, thirsty work. Well, hard, anyway. And the people who can do it well are highly prized, and well paid, engineers. Naturally, the job they do needs a fancier name than "chip designer." So instead, they are called CPU architects." As a result, the designs they create are known as "CPU architectures."

CPU Architectures

Currently, the most popular CPU architecture is one created by Intel Corporation. Known as IA-32 (for Intel Architecture, 32-bit), it is the basis for almost all the CPU chips that run Windows today. But not all chips that follow the IA-32 design are made by Intel.

Other companies, including AMD and Cyrix, make what are called "clone" CPUs. These chips manage to duplicate the behavior of Intel CPUs in every way possible. Sure, Intel's chips and the clones may differ by a transistor here and there. In fact, under their silicon skin, the CPUs may be completely different from one another. But the architecture of the clone CPUs is the same as the Intel originals.

This fact, that all "Intel architecture" chips are not made by Intel, has confused some folks. More that one reader wrote to tell me the Computer Profiler claimed they are running an Intel CPU, when in fact, their computer's main chip was made by another company. But if you look closely, the Profiler reports the architecture of your computer's CPU, not its manufacturer. And in those cases, the Profiler's report of an Intel architecture was correct.

I, however, am not so reliable. Last week, when we were discussing CPU architectures, I mentioned that versions of Windows existed that ran on CPU designs other than Intel's IA-32. For example, DEC (now Compaq) produces a family of CPUs they called the Alpha. Versions of Windows NT were created to run on these chips. Other versions of Windows NT supported MIPS 4000 CPU architecture from MIPS Technologies.

Windows, and the Profiler, can also detect a CPU architecture designed by Motorola and IBM, and used by IBM and Apple, known as PowerPC. So far, so good. But then I added "As far as I know, no released version of Windows was created to run on PowerPC (PPC) CPUs."

It didn't take long before readers Alex Kac and William Hopper set me straight. Both pointed out that Microsoft had released versions of Windows 3.51 that ran on PowerPC-based computers. William added "that WinNT 4 did support PowerPC before Service Pack 3."

Going forward, there are at least two more computer architectures on the horizon that will affect Windows users in the months and years ahead. One, by Intel, is known as IA-64 or Itanium. This completely new 64-bit CPU design finally breaks with the IA-64 design that has been so popular over the years. Another, the AMD Sledgehammer, is another 64-bit design, though it can also emulates the 32-bit IA-32 architecture if asked. Look for one or the other, coming to a PC near you soon. :)

More New Computer Profiler Features

We're almost out of time. But before you go I've got to tell you about several additions I've made to the Computer Profiler. Since last we met, the number of facts it can uncover has increased to more than 100! In addition to new CPU and Operating system features, it can also determine information about your computer's ports, drives, and network configuration.

It also reports several facts about your computer's user interface -- your keyboard, screen, and mouse. It even discloses your computer's sense of time, revealing the time zone where it resides, how that time zone differs from UTC, or Universal/Greenwich Mean Time, and when daylight savings and standard time take effect.

The new version of the Profiler even takes another look at your computer's CPU. Now, under certain circumstances, it will report your CPU's manufacturer (not just its architecture) and approximate clock rate (in megahertz). These two tidbits depend on tests performed by Windows at the time Windows starts, and may not be available on all computers. But if they are available, the new Profiler will pass them along.

If you'd like to give the new Profiler a try, visit the program's home page at https://www.karenware.com/powertools/ptprofile. And if you're a programmer, or would just like to take a look inside this new version, be sure to download the program's Visual Basic source code too. As always, they're both free.

In the meantime, I'll be looking for more information the Profiler can report. And spending some time on the 'net. If you see me online, be sure to wave and say "Hi!" And if you see my Mom, give her a hug for me. :)