Moore’s law in full swing

Replacing my old desktop computer with a new Intel Quad2Core machine this Christmas caused me to muse about the recent developments in PC technology. Almost everything in my new computer is now at least twice as powerful. The screen resolution increased from 1024×768 to 1680×1050, memory from 1.5 GB to 4 GB, hard disk capacity from 150 to 650 GB and processor speed from 1.8 GHz to 2.4 GHz. Moore’s law is still in full swing it seems. This new machine has a 64-bit processor instead of a 32-bit processor. It also has 2 (or 4) processors instead of just one. Unlike doubling memory or hard disk space, the latter is a significant update, because doubling the number of processors or their bit width doesn’t happen that often. It’s sort of a meta-Moore cycle.

16-bit computing was predominant at the beginning of my career. My first computer was an Atari ST 1040 with a 32-bit chip which was somewhat ahead of its time. However, it still had a 16-bit bus system. A few years later I purchased a true 32-bit system which was based on an early generation 386 chip. Processor speed was still measured in double-digit MHz rather than in GHz. It took a few years for operating systems and software to catch up and produce 32-bit versions of application and system software. The transition occurred during the early nineties which means the latest shift from 32-bit to 64-bit computing took at least 15 years, as we are now in a period where 64-bit computing emerges. Currently most PCs are still 32-bit systems, however.

What are consumers going to do with all that processing power? Well, playing games, rendering 3D images, and encoding audio and image data, I suppose. But probably most of the CPU cycles on any personal computer -not only on mine- go to waste in an idle loop. The situation is a bit like having an army that spends most of its time marching around the barracks.

One Reply to “Moore’s law in full swing”

  1. Computers and associated technologies like disk storage media are an expanding universe whose development cannot be explained by what we as users can see ourselves as the beneficiaries (aka Spacetime – see There is a lot of dark material with hidden attributes lurking in the designs of successive generations. This is because the operating systems and software applications increasingly are bloated with additional features largely obliterating any increase in raw power. Added to that there is a strong element of change in the graphical user interfaces whereby all the concepts have to be relearned within a userspace. I suspect this is deliberate to obscure the fact that profit is the objective far more than progress. Take the replacement of Windows XP by Vista, for example which eats up the extra power on any PC you are likely to acquire with Vista on it.

    I myself was a programmer for a number of years starting out with an IBM 1401 in the mid 1960s with memory of 14K into which it is was regular practice to build programs as large as 20K through methods such as overlays. In addition, techniques such as chaining were used to minimise the take-up of memory. By comparison with computers today, the 1401 was very primitive but the skill in using it far outstripped the inefficient and bug-ridden code one invariably encounters today.

    Most applications today are full of features which find rare use in most people’s hands, if any at all. Most features have a proliferation of variants so that being aware of any one of them and how to use it is a nightmare rather than an opportinuity.

    It’s a bit like my microwave which I bought in Sainsbury’s in the UK for £25 to replace a £200 model from Panasonic when it went wrong. The more elaborate unit has any number of buttons from which to choose depending upon whether it is meat or fish, from frozen or not etc. I eventually discovered from the £25 unit that all one needs in a timer and a power level control, that on the more elaborate machine the other controls collectively comprised no more than a graphical user confidence trick to encourage me to spend another £175.

    I am afraid that it is much the same with computers.

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