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ECN Time Warp: March 1997

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 8:40am
Chris Warner, Executive Editor

ECN's "Time Warp" series takes a look back at the storied history of Electronic Component News, which has a legacy stretching back to 1956. Each installment looks at a retro issue of the print magazine, tracing the brand’s transformation and evolution over the preceding six decades or so.

Here at ecnmag.com, you can find what’s new and trending. Our home page is constantly refreshed with up-to-the-minute news from the wires plus new products and announcements as they cross our desks. Our Trending section tells you what your peers have been viewing the most, usually within the last day. Prior to the Web, news delivery was not so instantaneous. New product news was delivered each month to our engineering audience through ECN’s print edition. Some old ECN Magazine covers have been making the rounds, and we thought it would be fun to have a look back at ECN covers through the years.

This week’s cover goes back to March 1997. Around the time this issue went to the printer, we learned that scientists in Scotland cloned an adult mammal -- a lamb named "Dolly," and in late March, the comet Hale-Bopp made its closest approach to Earth. That month, The English Patient won the Academy Award for Best Picture. In sports, Arizona won the battle of the Wildcats, beating Kentucky to win the NCAA basketball championship. The Green Bay Packers won The Super Bowl; the Florida Marlins won the World Series; and the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup.

By 1997, ECN was already present on the World Wide Web, as you can see from the header. (Products and vendor information was derived from ECN’s directory EITD (Electronic Industry Telephone Directory, and yes, the print version had a yellow cover). The mid-to late ‘90s was also a time when many consumers bought their first personal computers – or at least their first PCs with a built-in modem, to access the Web. Not surprisingly, products intended for the home PC market and the growing number of portable consumer electronics found their way to the cover.

The MPACT/3000 (upper right product), for example, was touted as the “world's first media processor solution.” Chromatic Research licensed the product to both LG Semicon Co (as shown in the photo) and Toshiba America Electronic Components. The “3000” part of the MPACT processor nomenclature likely referred to the part’s 3000 MOPS peak performance. The Mpact media processor was positioned as the centerpiece of a complete multimedia solution for home PCs which included specialized software called "mediaware" to comprise the “Mpact Media Engine.”

Speaking of Toshiba America Electronic Components, they came in with another product targeting consumer electronics. As its name implied, the Solid State Floppy Disk Card (SSFDC) was believed to be a rival of the floppy disk but soon found its way into more portable consumer electronics such as cameras. In fact, SmartDisk offered an adapter shaped as a 3.5-inch floppy that included a slot for SlotMedia cards, which could then be inserted into a PC so it could read and write onto the card. Storage cards were an important part of the personal electronics landscape as consumers filled their pockets with digital cameras, voice recorders, cell phones and PDAs (If only something would come along that can do all those things in a single device). Duel Systems (second product, left side) had a novel-looking storage card used to digitize film and sound for use with various portable devices.

Before the Pentium II Xeon, there was the Pentium Pro. The passive backplane CPUboard from I-Bus – which was then part of Maxwell Technologies -- included a 180-MHz version of the processor which was commonly used in server and high-end desktop applications at the time. The 200-MHz version of the processor was used in ASCI Red, the first teraFLOP/S performance computer.

Other notable products included Micro Linear Corp.’s ML6550 active memory bus terminator which could terminate up to 40 lines and which rivaled passive-resistor terminations, promising dramatic power reduction and increased bus speed. Last but not least is Fluke’s venerable, handheld ScopeMeter 123 (bottom right). First introduced in 1991, in response to the integration of electronic controls into the industrial environment (which caused severe harmonic distortion), today’s ScopeMeter units now include Connect-and-View triggering, battery life to seven hours, full color screens, and two- and four-channel options.

Do you have any perspective on the products and technology on this cover? Do you have any memories or stories you can share about them? How about some of the other design trends in 1997? Did some of them simply fail to live up to their hype? Tell us about them in the comments section below.

Be sure to check out: ECN Time Warp: April 1994

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