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Wednesday, 14th August 2013
Technological Dreams
By Kevin Walton

Been thinking about how computer technology has progressed over the last 25 years, about ones' dreams and how our dreams and expectations shift and change over time with progress (and thinking about how old I am!)

When I was in high-school, my DREAM computer that I always wanted was a 100Mhz CPU, 16Mb RAM, a 2Mb VRAM SVGA Graphics Card, 1GB HDD, CD-ROM drive and a 15" CRT Monitor. Oh, and we mustn't forget the 5¼" Floppy Disk Drive and the stunning new 3½" Floppy Disk Drive too! Oooooo, aaaahhhhh! Oh, and a 14.4K modem. In 1994, (the year after I left high-school), my mother bought this dream computer and it cost her $8000.

Then, in 1995, I saved up every cent I could and gradually over several months bought components to build my very own PC. It was a Pentium II, 166Mhz, 32Mb RAM, a 4Mb Video Card with a Rainbow Runner Video Capture card, 3Gb HDD (to which I later added a 10GB HDD), Creative Labs SoundBlaster AWE 32, a CD-Writer, Flatbed Scanner and a 17" CRT Monitor. Boy was I proud of this thing! I can't remember exactly how much it cost me, but it was somewhere in the vicinity of about $4000 overall.

Then in late 1997, I invested in my first laptop PC. It was a Pentium 133Mhz, I think 32Mb RAM, CD-ROM drive (can't actually remember too many details to be honest - it never got the use it deserved) - $7000!! Yep, laptops used to be WAY expensive!

The new millennium saw me venture into 3D Animation and my old Pentium II was no longer cutting it. Time to spend around $5000 on a brand new Dual-CPU 1Ghz Pentium III (for all you kiddies out there, back in the good old days before Dual Core CPU's, the way to get dual cores was to buy a computer with TWO separate CPU's). 2GB RAM, 32Mb GeForce 2 Video Card, 100GB HDD, Creative Lab SoundBlaster Live Platinum, Single-Layered DVD Writer and a massive 19" CRT Monitor (that thing was HEAVY!). I also re-purposed my old 17" Monitor as a second monitor, making this my first dual-monitor computer! (And the crowd goes wild!)
At 1Ghz, we're now running at 10 times the speed of my original "dream" computer and 2 times over seeing as I have dual-CPU's now. I also now have 100 times my original "dream" HDD space.

By this time, USB Flash Drives have hit the market. I believe I ended up with a 256Mb Flash Drive. Can't remember how much it cost me, but it was ridiculous.

2004 - Been freelancing as a 3D Animator for a few years by this point and becoming more and more stressed about the demands that are being placed on me with deadlines and the speed of my computer and how long it takes to render animation clips is just too darned long. Concerned about new technology that is already out on the market and what my competitors are all now using. Making good money though, so perhaps time to look at investing in a new computer again. Need to keep up with the industry. Pentium 4's are everywhere now, but what are these Pentium XEON's I keep hearing about? SGI Computers are huge in the 3D Animation industry and they all use Pentium XEON CPU's, but I'd be looking at around $50,000 for a good one. Research time... Ah, for $20,000 I can custom build my own PC that will kick the pants off SGI's top offering! Woohoo!
So for a cool $20K I get a Dual-CPU 3.2Ghz Pentium XEON, 4GB ECC-RAM, a 256Mb Quadro FX3000 Graphics Card ($3000), Creative Labs SoundBlaster Audigy 2 Platinum, two 20" Phillips LCD Monitors (at $2300 each!), a Dual-Layered DVD Writer, and at this time the largest HDD capacity on the market is 200GB... so I get 5 of them! So now I have, across 5 HDD's, a full 1TB of HDD space.

Also now walking about with a 1GB USB Flash Drive in my pocket.

So now, we're running at 32 times (x2) my original "dream" speed and sporting 1000 times my original "dream" HDD space. My original "dream" HDD space is now sitting in my pocket hanging from my keychain.

2005 - At $500 a piece, I pick up two brand new DSE 19" LCD Monitors to use on the old Pentium III which I'm still using as my personal non-work PC. Out go the old CRT Monitors.

2006 - Wife and I begin our wedding videography business. This will see the start of some ever-increasing demands on the capabilities of our computer systems for years to come.

2007 - The Pentium III which has now become my wife's computer, finally dies. Wife needs a computer, so off we go to rip the guts out of it and upgrade what is needed to keep it going. Keep the case and sound card but replace the motherboard, CPU, RAM, Video Card and HDD's. So for around $2000 the old Pentium III has now become a 2.4Ghz Core 2 Duo with 4GB DDR3 RAM, a 512Mb Video Card and 2 x 250GB HDD's.

2008 - $1600 gets me a new laptop that outpaces my $20K Pentium XEON! 2.2Ghz Core 2 Duo, 3GB RAM, 1GB Dedicated Video RAM, 250GB HDD, Dual-Layer DVD Writer. Under Windows 7, system info gives both the Pentium XEON and the laptop a Windows Performance Rating of 4.6, but when it comes to editing HD Video, the laptop is sweet as, while the XEON simply can't do it. Tried sinking another $200 into a new 512Mb ATI Raedeon Sapphire HD graphics card for the XEON, but still didn't improve it's HD Video editing capabilities at all (great for games though).

2010 - $400 brought the addition of a Dual-Layer Blu-Ray writer to the XEON. Therefore, how able to start offering our wedding clients the option of purchasing a high-definition Blu-Ray copy of their wedding video, which means we'll now have to start doing all of our editing in HD.

2011 - At 100 times the capacity of my original "dream" computer, the XEON's storage space is no longer cutting it. I pull out two of the 200GB HDD's and replace them both with new 1.5TB HDD's, giving me a total of 3.6TB (3600 times my original "dream" HDD space).

Now I'm also carrying around 32 times my original "dream" HDD space on my keychain.

2012 - One after the other, a couple of months apart, both of the 20" Phillips Monitors die. Helen never uses dual-monitors, so I re-purpose her second monitor to the XEON, so now both PC's are single monitor. Not really fussed as all my work is being done on the laptop now anyway. 3D Animation is a thing of my past, so XEON now being used as nothing more than media storage to be served over the network to our PS3's and TV (all of which (yes, even the TV) now vastly dwarf the specifications of my original "dream" computer).

By this time, I now have a LG P500 Optimus One mobile phone. This phone has a 600Mhz CPU, 512Mb RAM, 128Mb Internal Storage and a 16GB MicroSD Card. It runs Android 2.3, has 3G, WiFi, Bluetooth and A-GPS. So now, in my pocket, I have a full fledged PC running at 6 times the speed of my original "dream" computer with 16 times my original "dream" storage space, which is also able to replace my home phone line, can connect to the internet at speeds that I can't even calculate how much faster they are than the original 14.4K modem I wanted, and is able to track my location via satellite anywhere in the world.

2013 - Laptop still running good (although starting to lock up occasionally), but both the laptop and XEON take around 24+ hours to transcode a 5 hour wedding video to DVD. In fact, anything that requires processing time is just slow. The emergence of HD Video has changed everything and the demands on PC's processing capabilities have increased greatly. The XEON, generally, overall is becoming very sluggish. Is it possible that a computer can actually slow down with age?
Time to bite the bullet, go the whole hog and buy a whole new PC. $2600 brings in the era of the new 3.4Ghz Quad-Core (with hyper-threading) i7 CPU (so essentially 8 CPU's), 16GB RAM, 2GB Video Card, 250GB Solid State Hard Drive, 3TB HDD, 2 x 23" Dell Widescreen Full-HD LED Monitors and a new Dual-Layered Blu-Ray Writer at half the price I paid for the first one. Now able to transcode HD Video at 1½ x real-time (so a 6 hour video now only takes approx' 4 hours to transcode).

Finally, last week - the XEON dies! 9 years old, $20K to purchase it, at 33% depreciation per annum it is now only worth a mere $475 anyway. So I guess we got our money's worth out it. Laptop still going good, new i7 PC is brilliant but is living at my mothers house where I have set up an office space to work away from distraction. Is amazing how reliant we have become on the XEON to provide our daily media entertainment needs. So, off we go to replace it. Again, like the Pentium III, we gutted the existing case, kept what we could and just upgraded what we needed to. As it's only real primary purpose is to server as a media server, we went with bottom-off-the-line components for most of it. $925 got us a new power supply, 3.4Ghz Dual-Core i3 CPU (+ motherboard), 8GB RAM and a brand new 4TB HDD only just released on the market! Kept the case, the 2 x 1.5TB HDD's (so now have 7TB HDD space in total), the Blu-Ray Writer and the SoundBlaster Audigy 2 Platinum. No video card as am now just using the motherboard's built-in video ports and just using it with the single 19" DSE Monitor.

So now, I have two computers, both running at 34 times the speed of my original "dream" computer, multiplied by the number of cores of each CPU. One computer has 3250 times my original "dream" storage space, while the other now has 7000 times the space! The two computers have 512 times and 1024 times (respectively) my original "dream" RAM, and 2000 times my original "dream" Video RAM.

Meanwhile, I am now walking around with 64 times my original "dream" storage space in my pocket on my keychain.

Really makes you wonder what the future will hold and what the reaction would be of a much younger me if I was able to travel back in time and reveal all of this to my younger self.

So ask yourself now, what is your "DREAM" thing? If you're into computers, cool, think about what your dream computer would be today. Maybe you're into something else, like TV's, cars, phones, whatever. Whatever it is, write down your absolute dream specifications as you would realistically want to have them today. Put it away somewhere safe and then come back to it in about 25 years time and see where you're at. :-)