computer science, math, programming and other stuff
a blog by Christopher Swenson

Moore's Law: Please come back! We miss you!

Being a good consumer, every year or two I get the urge to upgrade my PC. "Do I need more RAM? A better CPU? Well, if I get those I might as well get a new motherboard, and …", etc. I'm sure many of you are familiar with this drill.

But, during my last few bouts, I've realized that there is no good reason for me to upgrade. This doesn't make sense! My current PCs were bought in 2005 and 2006, so should be getting to be ancient by now, right? I mean, my 1998 PC was a 166 MHz, 32 MB RAM piece of crap, and by the end of 2000 I was screaming along with with a 1 GHz behemoth with 256 MB RAM. That's 600% the raw processing power, and 800% the RAM in TWO years. Granted, the 1 GHz machine probably cost me an extra order of magnitude, but things were moving fast then.

Now, my 2005 laptop is a first-gen MacBook Pro: 2GB RAM, 2.16 GHz (32-bit). Three and a half years later, what would I get? 2GB RAM and 2.6 GHz (64-bit). What? That's an increase of 0% for RAM and 20% in almost twice the time of my 1998 to 2000 upgrade.

And we can stretch that back. The Intel Core's immediate predecessor in the Pentium M series (the successor is the Core 2). I had a 1.6 GHz Pentium M in my laptop back in 2003. So, the current top-of-the-line laptop isn't even twice the CPU that my laptop was five years ago. To be fair, the newer ones have two cores, but each of those cores is only 75% faster than five years ago.

We've fared slightly worse on desktops: my late-2006 PC is a first-gen Mac Pro: 2GB RAM (upgraded to 6 GB now) with 4 × 2.66 GHz processors for about $2600. Today, I'd get 2GB RAM, and an 8 × 2.8 GHz processors for $2800. An increase of $200 (‽), 0% RAM, and (theoretically) 210% CPU (in reality, the difference is probably more like 10–20%).

Sorry, but I'm not dropping nearly three thousand bones for something nearly identical to what I bought a couple of years ago.

I guess it will be at least a few more years before I upgrade.

Note that this doesn't address video cards: these have gotten ridiculously faster in the last few years. But I don't care as much, since my user experience on my computer is primarily 2D (don't play many games. But, when I do, my older, cheaper GPU can keep up enough to make me happy).