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An introspective, completely unsubstantiated view of the technology enthusiast, in late 2007

More than a few times someone asked me why does DailyTech cover all that global warming stuff, or defense tech, or automotive breakthroughs.  There's a good answer to that, but its not a simple one.

In 2004 I already saw the writing on the wall.  PC technology started commoditizing, and at a brisk clip as well. 

When I got my first K6 processor, it was not just the overclockers that cranked up that 66 MHz front-side bus.  Anyone who bought a computer had to know some of the essential differences between MMX and 3D-Now!.  A lack of knowledge, in those days, would set the up and coming computer user back hundreds of dollars if he wasn't careful.

Whether you agree with Karl Marx or Karl Rove (or anyone in between), a telltale sign of commodification occurs when the manufacturer stops focusing on tangible aspects of the product and starts pushing less tangible selling points.  This often occurs when competing products are too similar, or at least indistinguishable from the purchasers point of view. 

Where have we seen this before?  Well, my HTC Hermes did everything the iPhone did a year beforehand, but I'm pretty sure Apple sold a whole lot more iPhones.  Look at today's motherboards: any manufacturer would tell you its  all-solid capacitors are better than the next guy. And don't even get me started on the memory industry ...

I remember the exact instant when computer hardware became a commodity.  Steve Jobs got up in front of one hundred journalists and in less than 60 seconds, a million Apple zealots went from ardent Intel naysayers to hardened Intel devotees.  In that moment I realized it didn't really much matter to anyone which CPU was better than another, it only mattered what Steve Jobs told everyone to think anyway.

Other signs of the death of the PC enthusiast are littered across the Internet like the tattered remains of a kite breaking up on rentry.   The birth and demise of AMD's Quadfather, the ubiquitous lack of support (or interest) for quad-GPU graphics, failed physics processors and inconsequential sales of "killer" network cards. 
 
In a recent conversation with Jon Stokes, both of us agreed that while PC tech has seen some great growth over the last few years, this growth is not keeping pace with the Internet as a whole.  PC technology, as a journalistic discipline, is unfortunately niched to the degree you'd find with muscle cars. 

This leads me to answer the question I started out with: the PC industry, as a whole, just isn't as fast-moving or interesting anymore.   Attempting to debate the merits of largely intangible technology topics is a discussion more akin to politics than science.

You bet I'm excited about CPU-GPU integration and new OLED technology, but another unfathomably high frequency bump in the sea of JEDEC memory timings completely fails to pique my interest.  Analysis of Google Keywords would indicate those more mundane markers of progress in the PC industry fail to grasp even the smallest of demographics on the Internet as well.

That does not discount the importance of the tech enthusiast.  Those of us who grew up debating the merits of CPU architecture in the 1990's are the pioneers in virtual discussion.  We are what the majority of consumers will become over the next decade when new, broader forums come to be. 

Don't worry, I'm still the first person in Taiwan with Intel's next-generation roadmap.  However, as this industry withers and new ones blossom, I encourage you all as pioneers and enthusiasts to look beyond the chips and bits once in a while.


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Lack of Innovation
By EndPCNoise on 12/1/2007 2:19:23 AM , Rating: 1
Hi Kris, Great blog topic, and love your website too. Keep up the good work.

The one common denominator in the lack of innovation in the PC industry is the operating system...Microsoft Windows.

Windows 3.1 --> Windows 95,98 Revolutionary.
Windows 98 --> Windows XP Good innovation.
Windows XP --> Windows Vista Decent, evolutionary, but not great innovation.

Why?

1) Vista was delayed several times, and for far too long. Vista should have been released 2 years earlier. (Possibly delayed intentionally due to expiring court orders regarding kernal code.)
2) Vista does not optimize well, nor scale well for multicore CPUs.
3) Vista was never designed for, nor intended for multiple GPUs. SP1 will not solve this problem either. This is why SLI, Crossfire, and multi-GPU-single card technologies work inconsistently at best and do not scale well.
4) Vista is so overly bloated with Digital Rights Management DRM crap, which creates further performance issues, and hardware conflicting issues.
5) Microsoft and the PC industry have not pushed for the adoption of 64 bit operating systems fast enough, and now we are hitting 2 to 3 gigabyte memory address space walls (usually dependent upon the amount of memory in your video card or cards.) SP1 will not solve this problem either.

We can only hope that Microsoft will release Windows 7 Vienna on schedule, and that Windows 7 Vienna will have all the above problems corrected.

Windows 7 Vienna will also need to be designed to work with new CPU-GPU combination chips like AMD's Fusion processor, and some of Intel's Nehalem processors.

The above reasons are why the PC industry has stagnated.




RE: Lack of Innovation
By EndPCNoise on 12/1/2007 2:33:56 AM , Rating: 2
one more thing I forgot to mention Kris...

I really enjoyed the article "Biofuels: Salvation or Crimes Against Humanity?" exposing the real costs of ethanol, and I also enjoy reading the "defense tech" articles as well. I hope your website will continue to write quality articles on topics such as these in addition to PC industry articles in the future.

Good work to you and your staff. Thanks.


RE: Lack of Innovation
By noirsoft on 12/1/2007 8:53:59 AM , Rating: 3
I happen to view Vista as a much bigger step from XP than XP was over 2000. And, since my computers run Vista just as well if not better than they ran XP (including an older 3.2 Ghz p4) I wouldn't call it "bloated" by any means. Yes, a machine barely capable of running XP won't run Vista Premium, but a reasonable machine (I've had 2 gigs of RAM for a few years now on all machines) will do just fine.

to answer some of your points

4) I've heard so much fear-mongering over Vista's DRM schemes, but have not actually encountered any problems related to it in almost a year of usage (Yes,I bought a copy of Ultimate on day 0) -- I wish people would stop blowing smoke about this.

5) Vista 64 exists and has solved the 32-bit memory addressing issue. The problem is not that MS hasn't pushed it hard enough, it's lazy third-party software writers who haven't bothered to update their software for 64-bit compatibility. And how could Vista SP1 solve this issue? If MS dropped 32-bit support entirely, they would lose millions of customers who would complain that MS is trying to "force an unwanted upgrade on them" -- sound familiar?

You may want to actually spend some time trying to understand the issues you post about.


RE: Lack of Innovation
By FITCamaro on 12/2/07, Rating: -1
RE: Lack of Innovation
By mindless1 on 12/4/2007 2:18:05 PM , Rating: 2
It's because the vast majority of gamers, the target market/audience, are not running 6 bit Vista.

If a benchmark doesn't effect real world uses at least as much as reasonable, it's pointless.


RE: Lack of Innovation
By TomZ on 12/1/2007 2:51:53 PM , Rating: 2
As the above poster said/implied, you obviously know little about Vista. You really should read up from some reputable sources instead of echoing myths posted by ignorant people and Linux fanboys.

#2, Does not scale well for multiple CPU's - WTF? Basically same kernel design as XP and NT (updated version of the same code, really), which worked great on multiple CPUs. I've personally run WinXP and Vista with SMP for years, and Vista is at least as good as XP in that repect.

#4, DRM, again totally ignorant. Vista is not "bloated" with DRM any more than XP. If you read about DRM in Vista, you'll see that a lot of what Vista has was already present in XP, that Vista has the ability to support more DRM with third-part support (but doesn't include that portion), and that DRM doesn't affect performance of other aspects of the OS (e.g., when you're not watching a movie). Get the fact's from the source, instead of the Linux love-groups: http://windowsvistablog.com/blogs/windowsvista/arc...

#5, Not sure why you bring up SP1, because memory size is a 32-bit limitation; there is no reasonable expectation that SP1 might "solve" that problem. And I would remind you that WinXP 64-bit has been out for years now, so it is hardly the fault of Microsoft that the industry has not adopted 64-bit. The real reason is that most desktop users have no use whatsoever for 64-bit. Most people are running 512MB, 1GB, to 2GB of RAM, for which clearly 32-bit is fine.


RE: Lack of Innovation
By Ringold on 12/1/2007 3:37:11 PM , Rating: 2
I dont understand the argument that the OS has anything to do with the things that light fires under enthusiasts in the first place, Tom.

Maybe I totally missed the point of HardOCP's existence; Hard Over-Clocker's Place (or is it planet? my [H]ardness fails me). I always thought it was about tweaking, modding and raw performance. AT, TR, Bit-Tech, these places review hardware and measure performance, not fuzzy aspects of how the OS works but performance.

As long as a driver exists for an OS, and its fairly optimized, as it is for Windows, then the PC enthusiast experience appears to me to be independent entirely of the OS.

I know some people like to flog MS for all the evil in the world, but I don't get it here.


RE: Lack of Innovation
By TomZ on 12/1/2007 4:40:18 PM , Rating: 3
I agree. I think in theory it is possible for an OS to "bog down" performance of the entire system, but I haven't ever seen that happen with Win2K, XP, or Vista. I think performance problems typically relate to, as you may have implied, a poorly written device driver.

There is one exception that I would say, however, which is that if the computer has less RAM than the particular OS + application set demands, then you're going to see an overall slowdown.


RE: Lack of Innovation
By SavagePotato on 12/2/2007 4:38:45 PM , Rating: 5
Your post couldn't be more wrong.

Honestly I stopped reading when you said Vista doesn't scale to multicore well, thats when I realised you had no idea what you were talking about.

Vista scales to multicore far better than XP ever did, and is pushing 64bit harder than XP ever did.


RE: Lack of Innovation
By gochichi on 12/3/2007 5:30:15 AM , Rating: 1
Good point about Vista, and the general lack of excitement about it. I didn't get in line over it. The desktop effects look decent enough, but it makes it feel lethargic, b/c things that were happening instantly in XP, are now animated. Minus this lethargic appearance (there should really be a turbo option on the effects, and smooth transitions all of the time instead of just having the option of slow or no transitions) I doubt that many people will struggle with performance into the future.

In due time, however, people are going to start using the full potential of Windows Media Center. This will have a substancial effect in keeping MS's marketshare through the roof. Sure you could pay $2.00 for a low-res show on iTunes, or just hook up bunny ears to a PC and get the same show in over-the-air-HD... and stream the recording to any laptop in the house, or desktop, or Xbox. Watch out Tivo, watch out iTunes/iPod... Microsoft already done killed you, it's just a matter of time.

I see this as something that will redefine how people view PCs... facing forward they will clearly be more useful for consumer applications than any other platform, including the Mac. Consuming Video, Games, Pictures, etc. Mac is rightly the platform for content creation (and priced accordingly, priced as tools), but Microsoft will more than salvage their platform for the much more common content consumption.

I could not agree more about 64-bit Vista, Vista should have been exclusively 64-bit, end of story. Frankly, I think the fact that 99% of copies of Vista shipping today are 32-bit is a ploy to promote more hardware sales in the future. Basically: Almost every desktop and a few laptops sold today could easily support 4GB-8GB of RAM at the hardware level... but when people are faced with the fact that they have to shell out $100+ on a 64-bit Version of Vista (and reinstall etc. = hassle) they'll likely just buy another $700.00 laptop that comes with 64-bit Vista. Either way MS makes more money.

I think DRM is good (for Microsoft), it may not be built for multiple GPUs but it's built for playing protected content with a market value... and because they've made such an effort to provide DRM, content providers are going to be very interested in releasing content for Vista now and in the future. Watch out Blockbuster... horrible service, $4.49 rentals, inconvenient... XBOX marketplace is neither... and it's only a matter of time before the PC gets this kind of functionality.

I'm pretty sure that Windows 98 was not designed for multiple GPUs and yet SLI was invented on Win 95/98. I really don't see how it's up to Microsoft to fix AMDs driver issues. Aero effects are chump change and definitely don't require much... so I don't see how this applies at all. It's clear that DirectX 6,7,8,9,10 has been and still is able to technically benefit from multiple GPUs. Nvidia GPUs are getting almost an 84% performance benefit from SLI in a lot of games.

I dissagree on the scaling of multiple cores. It is quite typical for my 2 cores to be within 10% of each other in terms of use. Vista, if anything, has a license that permits I think up to 2 physical professors on Home Premium and more on Ultimate and Business. There is no core limit, and the underpinings of the system quite seem to expect 2-cores at a minimum, and certaily 8 cores will not be an issue on Vista, certainly not compared to other issues.


RE: Lack of Innovation
By EndPCNoise on 12/3/2007 2:13:10 PM , Rating: 2
@ gochichi

I respect that you can disagree and/or counter my opinions/arguments WITHOUT the use of nor the addition of insulting or degrading language in your posts as so many others do here on DailyTech.

I look forward to reading your posts and having cordial forum discussions with you in the future.


RE: Lack of Innovation
By serajadeyn on 12/13/2007 12:25:05 PM , Rating: 2
While I agree, the lack of innovation is helping with the stagnation in the market, I don't necessarily agree with you or the article's bottom line. I honestly see that such a large shift towards integration has been made, that everything from games to consumer home electronics setups are pushing the enthusiast market down to a crawl. PCs get games ported from consoles (I had NFS6 and it was sob-worthy)instead of natively developed code with better optimizations, AMD's new CPUS aren't substantially faster, they only match and compete on price, and Hardware that is made for an enthusiast is constructed cheaply and priced more than for a high-quality, albeit more basic impliment.(disagree? test out a new Razer Tarantula Keyboard and compare the build quality to the $30 cheaper Logitech/Microsoft wave-form keyboards) They build'em, we don't buy'em, and the manufacturer, instead of fixing it, stops catering to our needs altogether. This has happened to practically every other market in the last 10 years, and we may have been lucky enough to survive without such a practice until the last 3-5years. DDR3 doesn't stretch out system perfomance enough to justify the insanely higher cost to have it. I don't consider $1200 CPUs and $350 mobos hardly anyone(enthusiasts included) will buy, to actually be enthusiast hardware; I consider it "empty rich nerd's pockets" hardware. The enthusiast picks his own parts, tweaks his BIOS settings, uses trial and error, to get a truly custom setup that has his friends drooling. now you can just pop on over to HP's site and drop 5k on a watercooled, crossfire'd behemouth without doing a bit of your own work. where's the sense of accomplishment? That's gone too. Remember when you had to use an electrician's pencil to unlock multipliers on an athlon? True, now you can get stuff factory unlocked or ready for overclock motherboards, but still, the VAST majority of sales for people who build their own system just go look up a "combo special" and find some name brand ram for a good price, because they've already got their 'gaming system' PS3/XB360/whatev that plays their movies and surfs the net, and makes you a grilled cheese sandwich. None of that innovates, it just integrates. It's time to head away from all-in-one setups again.

PS-If you're wondering where i went and If i'm coming back, I apologize, this suddenly became a dump post for everything i think is wrong with the market today, and I realize I have not addressed the counter-points properly.


"It seems as though my state-funded math degree has failed me. Let the lashings commence." -- DailyTech Editor-in-Chief Kristopher Kubicki

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