PC Hardware


The term multimedia embraces a number of computer technologies, but refers primarily to video, sound, and the storage required by these large files. Basically, multimedia is a combination of graphics, data, and sound on a computer. In all practicality, the concept of adding multimedia simply means adding and configuring a sound card, a video card, and a CD-ROM drive to a system.

Microsoft formed an organization called the Multimedia PC Marketing Council in 1991 to generate standards for multimedia computers. The council created several multimedia PC (MPC) standards, and it licenses its logo and trademark to manufacturers whose hardware and software conform to these guidelines.

The Multimedia PC Marketing Council formally transferred responsibility for its standards to the Multimedia PC Working Group of the Software Publishers Association (SPA). This group includes many of the same members as the original MPC Marketing Council. The group's first creation was a new MPC standard.

The MPC Marketing Council originally developed two primary standards for multimedia: MPC Level 1 and MPC Level 2. Under the direction of the SPA, the first two standards have been replaced by a third, called MPC Level 3 (MPC 3), which SPA introduced in June 1995. (There are currently no plans for the publication of any additional MPC standards.) These standards define the minimum capabilities for a multimedia computer. The following table presents these standards.

MPC Level 1 MPC Level 2 MPC Level 3
Processor 16 MHz 386SX 25 MHz 486SX 75+ MHz
RAM 2 MB 4 MB 8 MB
Hard disk 30 MB 160 MB 540 MB
Floppy disk 1.44 MB 3.5-inch 1.44 MB 3.5-inch 1.44 MB 3.5-inch
CD-ROM Single-speed Double-speed Quad-speed
Audio 8-bit 16-bit 16-bit
VGA video resolution 640 x 480; 16 colors 640 x 480; 64,000 colors 640 x 480; 64,000 colors
Other I/O Serial; parallel; MIDI; game Serial; parallel; MIDI; game Serial; parallel; MIDI; game
Software Microsoft Windows 3.1 Microsoft Windows 3.1 Microsoft Windows 3.1
Date introduced May 1993 1994 June 1995

You should consider the MPC 3 specification as the bare minimum for any multimedia system today. Specifically, a recommended system exceeds the Level 3 standards in several areas such as RAM, hard disk size, and video capability. Note that although speakers are not technically part of the MPC specification, sound reproduction does require external speakers! The built-in speaker used for POST beep codes is not sufficient for this quality of sound.

Video-Capture Software

With the advent of multimedia computers and software, manipulating full-motion video was the next logical step. A modern high-speed multimedia computer has become standard equipment in the moviemaking industry. Today, even amateur filmmakers can use their computers to give home movies a touch of professionalism.

Video-capture software provides an interface that allows users to import and export video formats in order to edit them with their computers. This software allows a user to view audio waveforms and video images, create files, capture single frame or full-motion video, and edit video clips and still frames for content and effects.

File-editing functions such as zoom, undo, cut, paste, crop, and clear can be used to edit audio and visual files. Users can also set the compression controls to the type of format desired and determine the capture rates. The capture rate for full-motion video (equivalent to what you would find in TV or on the big screen) is 30 frames per second (fps), but some systems might not be able to reach this potential. Professional systems include very large, very fast hard disk drives for data buffering. A typical user of video-capture software might realize a frame-capture rate of only up to 15 fps without adding an arsenal of hardware to enhance the system.

Most new PCs will far exceed the basic multimedia requirements listed above. The A+ test current at the time of writing should not, however, go beyond these features. For now, you should still be able to describe the MPC features for the exam.