April 21, 2009

Overpowered Computing

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Myth: teenager gets accepted to college, buys a new computer, packs things up, and flies out to start a new life.

Fact: teenager gets accepted to college, buys a new computer armed with an atrocious amount of processing power, RAM, and graphics card, packs things up, and flies out to start a new life.

Today we’ll focus on the issue of the vastly overpowered PC that has become commonplace by industry standards. Let’s face it, how many of us actually looked at the tech specs on our computers before coming to Cornell? Don’t answer, it’s a rhetorical question.

Firstly, I want to show you the recommended specs for Microsoft Office 2007, which is a staple for most college students:

* 500Mhz Processor
* 256MB RAM
* 1.5GB storage

Ok, so you would need 1GB of RAM if you want contextual grammar check to be on, but c’mon, is this really necessary? You go to Cornell, you should have the basic ability to recognize grammatical errors on your own when you make them.

Now let’s look at the program requirements for the most current version of MatLab (which Engineering students “love”) on Mac and Windows:

The RAM requirements have gone up slightly: 512MB is the minimum required to run MatLab, and 1GB is recommended. So MatLab seems to require more power to run than Office, which is understandable. But my question is this: why do new computers ship out with such an insane amount of graphical power? Just look at the Dell Inspiron 1500, priced at under $500:

* 2.0 Ghz processor
* 3Gb RAM
* 250Gb Hard Drive
* Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X4500HD that can take up to 384mb of memory from RAM

And if we turn to the new line of Macbooks, one can see these ridiculous results:

* 2.0Ghz processor
* 2.0Gb RAM
* 160Gb Hard Drive
* NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics processor with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory

I guess the point that I’m painfully trying to get to is this: the power our computers now have is incredible, but many of the basic programs that we need and use don’t require this kind of power. While I understand that there are a fair few on campus who need a powerful computer for more advanced things, most of us are actually fine if we had a copy of Windows 2000 Pro and Microsoft Office 2000.

But then we wouldn’t be able to play video game on our computers, which is what I suspect most people do with them.

That still doesn’t explain why the computer lab gets filled on Saturday nights with people playing DoTA (you know who you are).