Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Technological Leap Frog

To my seemingly endless list of reasons to neglect this humble blog, I can now add equipment failure. A few days ago I pushed the start button and was greeted with only a blinking light and eventually not even that. After a brief bout of classic temporary insanity during which I repeated the same procedure hoping for a different result, I unhooked everything and took the computer to a trusted repair shop, where a diagnosis of power supply failure was reached and a new one installed at relatively low expense.

During the two days it was at the shop I naturally did some shopping for a replacement should it have been necessary, and I was reminded of the constant growth of the capability of PCs, especially in hard drive capacity. Basic units have hard drives that dwarf the one in the ancient PC I'm using, which itself is only about at 1/3 capacity. I frankly don't know what I would do with so much memory, since I'm not a big game player and I don't store a lot of video.

I mentioned this to my professional IT brother and he said something that brought back memories. He noted that even basic software takes up a lot more memory that it used to, and that Windows 7 is noteworthy as a storage hog. I couldn't help but chuckle at this, since I'd been dealing with that since the dawn of PC time, when companies such as Osborne and Victor still roamed the landscape and Bill Gates was not yet sleeping in pajamas made of money.

There has always been the chicken-or-egg question: was hardware growth necessitated by software demands, or did software swell because the hardware allowed it? Looking back, I think it tended to be first the latter, then the former. Software developers used all the available abilities of the hardware, which induced manufacturers to build better equipment to allow better performance, which created room for software to grow, repeat to this day.

Of course, it wasn't and still isn't as sequential as that. Often someone in one camp jumps in front; HP has long been putting huge-for-the-time hard drives into their computers, and game companies often seemed to have products in their warehouses waiting for a computer that could handle them, although that has become less frequent as custom gaming machines have come back. (I wonder what the old Atari people think about the rise of Wii, Playstation, etc.? Having others stand on your shoulders is often uncomfortable.) I suppose it will eventually level off, but at what point is hard to say.


Dale said...

Mike, I continue to find it interesting how these game platforms -- wii, playstation 2/3, xbox, etc. -- militate against the overall trend of computing. That is, the hardware stays constant for 2-3 years or even more, which is an eternity in this field. I got my son a wii over Xmas 2009 and it's still very much a "living" platform on which new games are being released constantly. More surprisingly, we also have a Playstation 2 that we got in, oh, 2001(?), and while there aren't many new games made for it, it's still quite viable. Every store has gobs of games for it.

It's neither here nor there, I suppose, but it does strike me as a curiosity that while, say, smart phones pass through half-year generations, and while PCs gain in power and capacity almost as fast, these extremely popular computers "progress" comparatively slowly.

Mike said...

That's quite true,Dale. I got my daughter a used Playstation 2 a few years ago, and it still suits her just fine.

I think the reason they hold up longer is that while computers have practical applications that may lead someone to conclude it's worthwhile to upgrade, most people aren't going to shell out the necessary money to replace what is essentially a toy. This forces manufacturers to produce substantial improvements in the machines to convince people to make the purchase. That kind of improvement takes a little more time than the gains in PCs.