Fast Computers: Cool or Merely “Chromed?”

By Hal Reid

Today's 'bleeding edge' microprocessor technology is not keeping pace with the needs of GIS

We all love technology, and can't wait for the next coolest thing, faster, neater with a bigger WOW quotient.Like everybody who is anybody, I go to computer fairs.But lately it just isn't very exciting and I have noticed a couple of disturbing trends.

First, there hasn't been much lately that has made the basics faster. With the "thumb drives" and memory sticks & cards, why can't we boot from them? It is so dumb to wait for the computer to come up, watch them gyrate around, the hard drive running - in my case about 3 minutes with Windows NT before you can do anything.All of my PDAs are up as soon as you hit the on button.Why can't the operating system exist in a 256MB or 512MB card? I wonder how many people leave their computers running because it takes so long to boot? This is a basic problem that has gotten worse with each new version of Windows.

Speed? Just How Much Difference?
When you go to buy a new computer, the total performance thing really boggles the mind.Recently, I saw two computers a 2.8 GHz and a 3 GHz machine with exactly the same memory, hard drive, etc., but the prices for the 3GHz (only 200 MHz more) was a 30% increase! Seven percent faster for 30% more dollars.Could you really tell which machine was faster?

Is it possible that the decline in PC sales is related to the lack of something really new and cool, and it is hard to justify stepping up, when the next step is not really higher then the one you are on?

Moores' law notwithstanding, how long have we had the 3 GHz machines? Probably well over a year, but no 5 or 10 GHz machines.If we can't have those, how about the 64 bit stuff? What happened to the Intel Itanium and the 64-bit version of Windows? Way back in the day, 6 or seven years ago, the DEC Alpha was 64-bit and it ran at 1 GHz.

Second, there is a really disturbing trend that is purely visual.About a year ago I noticed these really cool 5 & 1/4 inch drive bay inserts sort of looked like a graphic equalizer.Bar graphs, sine waves and colors driven from the sound card.Electronic Graphic Audio Displays - EGAD! They were pretty cool, but since most of the time your CPU tower is under the desk, and your computing requires you to look at the screen, you can't see the EGAD.If you aren't playing tunes, there is even less to see.But it looks cool.

So since we can't have instant on and fast, we get lights.

"If it doesn't go, chrome it"
Now at the computer fairs and CompUSA we have stick lights inside the CPU cases so you can see the motherboard, cables, etc.The lights are cool colors - sort of like the cobalt blue on the Enterprise engine nacelles or luminescent Kool-Aid Red or Green.

Now I don't know about your computers - maybe Macs are different, but the only thing that you can see inside mine actually moving is the cooling fan over the processor.Pretty exciting! This is right up there with neon lights under a car.Looks cool, doesn't go.

Obviously, the next evolution will be motion.

It wouldn't be too difficult to have the cases shift from a general rectangle shape to a trapezoid.A shift in shape, (the top f the case leaning forward) in combination with the lights changing colors could really create the impression of speed.The amount of lean would be relative to the processing load.

Just think how cool it would be to see server farm with all the servers moving and shifting relative to how hard each one was working, utilizing a new technology called Light Enhanced Articulated Networks - LEAN.You could watch the server farm and see if you really had good load balancing or not.The light stick colors could represent the health condition of each server.Cobalt blue would be fast and healthy - the RAID array in good shape, tons of available memory, the processor running cool.A yucky green would indicate a server that didn't feel too well and it wouldn't lean forward, just to the side, using the server rack to hold it up.A really bad one would have a flat line display on the EGAD.A bright red one, leaning far forward would be just about to crash, the EGAD would show an unhappy face.

There is no doubt we are in for some really significant technological advances.They may not be chrome, then again, chrome cases might be cool.

Published Thursday, February 20th, 2003

Written by Hal Reid

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