End of Moore’s Law?

A little known force in the movement from desktop to laptops:  Little sisters pulling the plug on their brother’s computer.  Laptops have batteries and are therefore more sister-proof…

Actually, Gordon Moore only predicted that the optimal density of transistors on integrated circuits would double every two years. This has later been extended by pundits writing about the computer industry, to the currently most known form, that computers of the same price become twice as powerful over the course of 18 months.

For a long time, this seemed to hold true. Even I was starting to take it for granted. But it seems that this time is over now – either that, or we are simply in an outlier on the graph of performance.

I bought my current main computer in November 2007, meaning it is now well over 3 years ago.  I gave roughly kr 10 000 for it, or $2 000. Today I checked the same online store for the model that fills the same niche today. It should be either a quarter of the price or four times as powerful, but that is not the case. It costs around kr 6 000, two thirds of what it did three years ago. It has two cores running at 3 GHz, while mine has four cores running at 2.4 GHz. In other words, the computing power is less for some tasks and around the same for others. The hard disk capacity and memory are the same.

You do in fact get more for the money than three years ago, but this may to some extent be due to the lower dollar. It is if anything charitable to say that you get a computer for two thirds of what you paid three years ago.

Of course, this may be because the “center of gravity” of computing has moved. Traditional desktop computers such as this are no longer part of the core market, which consists of laptops, netbooks, game consoles and handheld devices. Desktop computers are not quite a fringe market yet, but they are moving gradually toward the sidelines, I guess.

Still, there is a pretty big difference between $500 and $1500. Or at least it certainly feels like a big difference.  There is a kind of psychological limit somewhere in between those, probably around $999.

But as I mentioned in an earlier post on this topic, there may not be much need for Moore’s Law anymore.  Consumers and offices don’t need more powerful computers. Well, there are some teenagers with old laptops around still, I hear. ^_^ But what I mean is that they don’t need more powerful computers than the one I have, or indeed even that much.  It would still be nice if they could get those cheaply, but that is not what drove advances in computer technology in the past. There was a race to produce faster and better computers, and as a side effect you could buy the old ones cheap. Now there is no such forward drive.

I guess the age of the datapad is almost upon us. It is already common to store data in the “cloud” of server on the Internet, for instance in the form of Gmail. Computing is still mostly done locally, but this may be next. For instance, Opera Mini, a free browser for smartphones, does part of its processing on Opera’s servers. And online games have of course already been doing part of the processing on their servers. All these are things that are becoming gradually more common.

But the end of the rise of the personal computer does influence some businesses. For instance the Norwegian gaming company Funcom, whichreleased their massive multiplayer game Age of Conan with hardware requirements that were not standard even here in Norway at the time. Normally this particular problem would fix itself, as ordinary gamers would grow into the high specifications next time they bought a new computer. Computers don’t last forever, after all. But in the meantime, “Moore’s Law” has been braking and may be stopping completely in this market. And of course the economic crisis in the first world has also led people to not replace their computers until broken, if even then. So the timing was about as bad as could be.  (Not that this is a great loss, for the game has a rather evil atmosphere. The only commendable thing about it is that it demonstrates just how detailed a game can be. You should not stay in there though, or evil may fester in your soul. Of course, that may not make much difference to some people, but those people are probably not reading the Chaos Node.)

Well, that should be enough for today. ^_^

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