In my mind, in my little world, I acknowledge that I live behind the leading edge of technology. I type this post on a machine that is 9 years old, and even when it was born, it was an underachiever. I know that and I respect it, but at the same time I am pleased that it does what it does, at the pace it does it, with a little coaching from me.
I got a look at the other side of the fence today, visiting a friend who owns a machine that so far outstrips this one that it might as well have traveled back through time. An Alienware Area-51 ALX X-58, an Intel Core i7 rated at 3.2Ghz over eight CPUs, and a whopping 12Gb of RAM. It’s a machine that looks and sounds like a V8 engine, and probably demands as much in resources. I was, to put it mildly, flabbergasted.
I didn’t even know machines were sold with those kind of specifications, although I admit to hearing about similar hardware while lurking in #crux. The last time I was in close proximity to a machine with anything near 12Gb of RAM, it was a rack-mounted server responsible for managing industrial-grade printing processes.
I don’t mean to critique the machine because that’s hardly any affair of mine. I wasn’t there to playtest it or check the hardware or even to touch it — and to be honest, I didn’t want to because I feared it might snap off a finger or two. I’m pretty sure it growled at me when I wasn’t looking.
But I take that experience along with the fact that I’ve bundled up the fastest machine I’ve had in my house for the past four or five months — a measly 1.4Ghz Celeron M packed into a failing Dell Inspiron 600m — and shipped it off to an address in America. I was weary of the sketchy motherboard and off-again, on-again keyboard performance, and given the fact that the machine never had any real sentimental value, I am almost as glad to get it off my desk as I was to originally try it out. “Lukewarm” is probably the best word for the entire experience.
But in my book, until this evening, a 1.4Ghz Celeron was fast, in much the same way a 2Ghz AMD64 was fast, or even a 1Ghz Pentium III was fast. I considered it a twin miracle of hardware superiority and my miserly tendencies to come up with a 18.104.22.168 kernel configuration that the Celeron could compile, from start to finish, in under 10 minutes.
That kind of myopia probably isn’t good for me, on the whole. I already said I’d like to get my hands on a faster-than-2Ghz machine, if only to have reliable access to USB2.0 ports and a machine that can compile without undue stress. I am realizing more and more that what I consider to be usable, or what I consider to be fast, is only because my mental yardstick puts a Pentium 4 in the “high end” bracket.
And therein lies the problem: That’s not the case any longer. Three years ago when people were ho-humming 800Mhz machines, or a year and a half ago when Pentium 4s suddenly became “antiques,” I felt I had the moral high ground. But to make the same case for those machines now, after seeing my friend’s computer … well, it suddenly seems a bit weak.
After tonight I worry that maybe I sound like the hermit out in the woods, shouting about how to get the best performance out of a donkey cart, when the rest of the world is cruising around in Cadillacs. Perhaps my perspective is so distant from contemporary that there’s no point in ranting at all.
Oh well. I suppose there’s no harm in it. I’ll still keep an eye open for a proper 2Ghz-plus machine, and maybe one day find one I can plop down on my desk (in the space left over from the 600m), and be amazed and surprised at the incredible speed. And knowing me, I’ll probably blab about here. My only hope is that I can keep a balanced perspective on the issue, if I can look back and remember this note.