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[YAK] The Future of Computing


#1

First off, let me say that none of what I’m about to say means that
anyone should rush out and buy a new computer…

So, I finally broke down an built a new computer - the old one was
going on ten years old (the system - drives and things get replaced
now and then), things were going hay-wire now and then, etc. Asus
P5Q3 (I like Asus), Q9550, GeForce 9800, 8 gigs of 1066 DDR3, two
drives, DVD… And 64 bit Windows Vista, which this is all about.
Started a format on a 650 gig drive, so I have some time to
kill…

In the very beginning, there were 8 bit systems - Atari and others.
The easy, but not truly accurate way of thinking of bits is as the
lanes of a freeway - an 8 bit system has 8 lanes, 16 has 16 lanes,
etc. More importantly, because of computer architecture, it
determines how much memory a system can use. (There’s a point
coming…) Those who are techier than I will quibble maybe that
it’s over-simplified, but again it’s essentially true: an 8 bit
system can use 2 to the eight power (don’t know how to type that,
here…) of memory, which is 64 bits of memory. Then came the 16bit
computer (xx86, xx88) which was the IBM PC and others. Those could
use 2 to the 16th power or the now famous 640k of memory. The Pentium
brought us 32 bit computing, and Windows (Apple parallels the story,
but it’s cumbersome to keep saying those things here). Windows is/was
a 32 bit OS running on a 32 bit CPU. A 32 bit system can use 2 to the
32 power of memory, which is 4 gigabytes Of that just about 3.3
gigabites is actually useful. That seemed like a lot of memory at the
time…Almost everybody reading this is using a 32 bit OS.

Then came the Core-2 Duo, then the Core-2 Quad (and AMD and others),
which are 64 bit CPUs. They can handle 2 to the 64th in memory -
that’s 17.2 BILLION Gigabytes - ten billion times more memory than a
32 bit system. That’s a lot of memory. And it’s a 64 lane freeway,
too.

Except that if you are using a 32 bit OS, as most are, then you can
only use the 32 bit ceiling, no matter what. Since I built a new
system, and I built it for the future, I went with 64 bit Windows
Vista - the first natively written 64 bit {window-type} OS. I got
Home Premium, which can use 16 gb of memory. Business and Ultimate
can use 128 gigs. The reasons why there’s any limit are practical
ones. I will say that changing a system to 64 bit is not for the
faint of heart, and there are things to know before one just leaps
into it…(BTW, words has it that Windows 7 - due around Xmas, will
be the last 32 bit windows…)

Why does this matter? In the beginning, 4 gigs of fast memory seemed
enough for anything - it was 1,000 times more than previous systems
had. Today, if you encode a video it might be a file that’s 4 gb in
size. That means that if you do it your sytem has to resort to
virtual memory tricks to accomplish the task, and it can take days -
there’s just not enough memory to hold the entire file in place
(memory mapping) in RAM. Throw in high level graphics processing,
sound, 3-d modeling and all sorts of other things, and the 32 bit
model has found it’s ceiling. Even Windows Vista (Apple, too) is
built to run best on a fast, modern system. Most of the issues with
Vista (once they got the bugs out) had to do with system resources,
and not enough of them. With a Quad core processor and 8gb of fast
ram, it’s like sitting in the cockpit of an F-16…

Unix people will laugh, “Ha, Ha, we’ve never had any of those
problems…” But most of us, like me, are computer consumers. I
don’t want to write a program, I want to write a letter and surf the
net. Windows and Apple interfaces are what bring everyman to
computing, but they come at a price - a closed sytem.

Again, don’t rush out and buy a computer - there’s no need for that.
Just a year ago 64 bit computing was only for the intrepid or the
masochistic. Now it’s reaching critical mass - there’s lots of
drivers, some programs, and many programs optimised to take
advantage of the architecture, even though they are 32 bit. Best Buy
has 64 bit systems lately, Dell has many. Don’t buy one at all
without understanding that it’s the latest. Your 5 year old printer
likely doesn’t have drivers, and you can’t use the old ones… Just
about everything about it will need to be recent or new. But it’s
coming…

As someone said - eventually the contents will rise to fill the
container…

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