The Need for Speed Is Still Prevalent

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2001-09-24

Almost every year, the same myopic visionaries pop out of the woodwork to announce that processors dont need to be faster. Theyre probably of the same genetic ilk as those who thought rail transportation exceeding the 10-mph theoretical "human speed limit" would threaten our health.

Some of these confused souls attempt to draw parallels between processor speeds and automobile speeds, saying that just as weve reached a point at which car speeds dont matter, neither does computer performance. What really matters, they say, is bandwidth.

Bandwidth certainly is important, but this is where the parallel falls apart. Cars might indeed operate at jet speeds by now if safety and things like traffic control systems and fuel efficiencies werent factors. Highways might have hundreds of 100-foot-wide lanes, too.

The physical limitations of cars have little to do with the limitations on processor speeds. Intel says its new architecture can take its chips up to the 10GHz range in the near future, keeping Moores Law alive for at least five more years.

CPU performance is only one part of realized computer speed, and processor cycles are still being consumed at a good clip, especially in the entertainment world, with its games, music ripping and video creation. But there is also much work to be done in medical imaging, architectural and CAD applications and for software to do more for us than it already does. These future technologies will sap todays powerhouse CPUs as if they were the bargain basement has-beens that theyll be in five years.

As it stands, theres little need for most people to own a 2GHz P4 computer, especially if theyre just browsing the Web and doing e-mail. Years ago, many pundits pondered whether the 486 processor would be the fastest anyone ever needed, too. But those visionaries failed to consider the two most truthful idioms of the modern age: The only constant is change, and nature abhors a vacuum.

Those doing e-mail and browsing will want more. They always do, and they also tend to hold on to their computers for several years. Ive dealt with those who have 233MHz PIIs and dont think they need any more. Its not a pretty site. Its disgusting, as if you were seeing an old VW Vanagon struggling up a hill at 25 mph while spewing noxious fumes. Cough.

Give me more speed, and Ill figure out what to do with it.

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