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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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I tend to agree...
By joemoedee on 12/3/2007 8:50:38 AM , Rating: 3
As someone that worked for a PC manufacturer for a few years, I do see the shine fading from the high-end PC industry.

Why? There's no real true reason to upgrade your rather recent PC if you bought smartly a few years ago.

A several year old computer runs XP just fine, and outside of playing games at the highest settings, it will be able to run just about everything out there decently. Vista for all intents and purposes, has been a flop. Outside of a few visual differences, there is no real compelling reason to upgrade to it at this point. XP is stable, solid, better on resources, runs everything, and most people already have it.

Outside of a few games that push the hardware envelope, you can have a really enjoyable experience on just about any machine out there. (Again, if you bought correctly a few years ago)

The majority of the American public have PCs now, as do many in the connected world. Grandmoms get on the net. The former "status" symbol of having a PC is no more.

Additionally, outside of the Keyboard/Mouse vs Controller argument, Consoles can deliver a very similar gaming experience to PCs now. This wasn't the case when you were comparing a NES or SNES to a PC 15-16 years ago. Why pay $3000 for a high end PC, when you can get a similar experience on a $400 console?

Additionally, The $300 computer can do 95% of what that $3000 computer can do.

I can speak from my own experience. I've been a PC gamer since 92.

I have a machine, a Sempron 3100+. Radeon 9550 video card. It's 3 years old.

Last year, I built a Core2 Extreme X6800 with a 7900 GTX. I played a few games on it, but nothing too heavily. (I'm not big into FPS, RTS, or MMORPGs so that limits my new PC gaming selections) I sold it, and still use the Sempron 3100+. I can do everything I typically did on the beast.

Basically it boils down to this. In an effort to mainstream computers and the internet, it's all gotten watered down. The hardcore PC gamers with money to burn will still buy the latest and greatest, while the rest won't because they don't have to. The list of reasons to buy the latest and greatest is getting smaller and smaller, as dropping another $500 on the new video card on the market doesn't make much sense when all it's doing is giving you an extra 5-10 fps on an already playable amount of fps.

The technological leap just isn't there right now, and until it is, high end will be stagnant.

“So far we have not seen a single Android device that does not infringe on our patents." -- Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith
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