The Downsides To Moore's Law?

from the yes-and-no dept

ExtremeTech is running an interesting look at the “downsides” to Moore’s Law, basically noting that while Moore’s Law has continued to provide more computing power (effectively) that isn’t always a good thing. It’s pushed this need for a near-constant upgrade path, costing consumers plenty of money. Of course, that leaves out the flipside of that equation, which is that these more powerful computers allow the buyers to do a lot more with them. You would hope that, on the aggregate, the benefit of that greater power outweighs the costs of the upgrades. While there is plenty of waste and certainly plenty of people who don’t need such power, that doesn’t mean having it is necessarily a bad thing. Also, the article notes that you could probably make 8086-type PCs these days for about 10 cents (an exaggeration if they’re really talking about the full PC) but that since you can’t make a business out of selling 10 cent computers, no one does it. This is a bizarre statement. You absolutely could make a business out of selling 10 cent computers, and in many ways, plenty of companies do. All of the embedded computing power that shows up in various devices, phones, cars, mp3 players, etc. proves exactly that. What the analysis seems to be ignoring is that those 10 cent “PCs” have become embedded in lots of other things, allowing for tremendously powerful new uses that simply weren’t available before. It’s hard to see how that’s really a downside. People can get a orders of magnitude more power in their PCs for the same price (and often cheaper) than in the past while all around them devices and systems are becoming more computerized and powerful thanks to the fact that the “old” stuff is so cheap. That seems like a pretty good deal.

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Comments on “The Downsides To Moore's Law?”

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Matt Bennett says:

I sell corporate software, and I have to admit, I often wonder if the raw capabilities of both hardware and software have outpaced people’s ability to adapt and figure out how to use them.

Basically I’m thinking people might need more time to think and let the applications sink in. It’s not really like the ever-new, over-powered computers are a problem, more like they’re wastful, because people aren’t very adpet at utilizing them yet. It also tends to lead to sloppy programming.

Luke (user link) says:


I see it as to having just as many downsides as upsides. Yes, my computer can do just about anything and has the horsepower to back it up. However, I only use on average about 10% of my computer’s capabilities and I use my computer to do a hellova lot. All of my money, my personal information, my communication, etc. is all controlled through my desktop…and I could do it on a computer that’s got 1/3 the processing power. However, because my OS of choice (XP) and the other utilities are programmed to use a glut of resources it requires me to obtain a glut of resources. 90% of the processing power isn’t spent on cranking out useful numbers, statistics or other useful information, but it’s spent on rendering pretting pictures and a painfully resource hogging UI.

Basically we have all sorts of power, but the average user spends far more resources rendering UI than they do creating useful information.

Even when I was in school 2 years ago and was runnign Matlab and Maple (math software) the system would handle decently sized matrix math until it had to display things as a graph and then it maxed out my graphics abilties. In other words, unless you’re doing massive mathematical computations the extreme growth in processing power isn’t really useful.

In other words we have lots of powerful processors, but there is no particular need for the extreme amount of power.

Alex Hagen (profile) says:

10 Cents

Let’s face it, to read email, browse the web, and print word documents, a 10 year old computer is sufficient. And for most people, that is all they do. Unless you are doing graphs or games, you just don’t need the power in modern computers.

The problem with forced upgrades isn’t Moore’s law’s fault, it’s Microsoft. That 10 year old computer can really only run Windows 98. Vista would kill it. But of course 98 isn’t supported anymore, with Windows 2000 and XP soon to follow. New software won’t run on it, and bugs and security holes don’t get fixed. MS is in business to sell operating systems, and obsoleting old systems is the only was for them to sell new ones.

JG says:

Upside is better

Precisely why there are programs which make use of your processing power when you do not. I suspect there may be other ways to utilize PC power in the future.

I think customer demand for a “low power” machine that doesn’t have a resource hogging UI will be the impetus to create such a beast. If we don’t ask for it we won’t get it.

And I agree with the statement that the 10-cent PC is in my MP3 player, GPS, etc. The fact is that a PC will always be a PC, but we will get more and more specialized devices to do particular tasks. The PC is nothing more than a fancy interface around a microprocessor, all these specialized devices also contain a microprocessor. It’s just that the interface is more specialized to the task, and hopefully, it’s cheaper!

King says:

I think the computers need to become more powerful and we NEED to advance as a society. Take it from someone pretty young (20); our generation doesn’t need to let it “sink” in. As computers become more common human proficiency in them becomes more and more natural. Welcome to evolution. If we stop advancing; we die. Just food for thought.

The infamous Joe says:


Aren’t you describing linux? I don’t have much knowledge on that subject– though I’d like to know more, just never got around to it– but I thought it was pretty low on the resource-needing scale.

Also, wasn’t there a post a while back about how computers are built to fail because now they have more resources than people can use– so there would be no reason to upgrade if the computer didn’t break?

Buzz says:


Linux is very low on the resource-needing scale. Unlike Windows, Linux can be customized at every level. Granted, it requries a rather tech-savvy individual to do so, but it’s more practical than attempting the same in Windows. Linux exposes itself by even offering source code while Windows tries to support an invincible outer shell.

I agree that we need to lower the computing power which we currently abuse. I cannot stand lazy code. Today, marketing painfully infects the software development line. It’s all about finishing the project by an overzealous deadline rather than making the program smooth and clean.

emichan says:

Re: Yup

Linux is a great alternative to MSux – and if you get the right distro, you don’t have to be all that tech savvy to use it. I use Ubuntu at home on an older, fairly low power box, and I love it. It’s easy to install, pretty much configures itself, and is updated every six months.

No one is forced to use windows. if you want to be able to use more of your resources, there are ways. oh yes.

Steven says:

Wow, that was stupid.

So technological advances are apparently driven by something some guy said back in the 60’s and not by consumer demand, technical innovation, R&D…

Blaming anything on ‘Moore’s Law’ is just ridiculous. Moore’s Law is simply an observation of a trend that has continued far beyond the expectations of Moore himself. Moore’s Law doesn’t drive anything. Competition and demand drive innovation.

Today tons of people do digital photo editing, video capture/editing, audio editing/ripping/mastering, 3D modeling, gaming. These things drive the need for more powerful computers.

Then there’s is the hogwash about 10 cent PC’s. Even if were not talking about 10 cent PC’s but rather 10 cent processors (which is what it sounds like he means given the talk about transistors and wafers) it assumes that the cost in making a processor is directly related to the speed at which the processor runs (or the number of transistors it has). I’m not saying 10 cent processors aren’t possible (I think there are some embedded processors you can get for around that price in bulk) but this guys acts like it’s jut a matter of cutting the wafer into smaller pieces and we could all have super cheap home computers.

I worry that I may have lost a couple of brain cells by reading that article.

Alias says:

Companies need to, have to, sell new PCs, OSs, and applications in order to keep their development staffs employed. If M$ stopped building/selling new OSs, and Dell stopped making more powerful PCs, they would (eventually) have to lay off all their developers. Then, when it was determined that a new OS/PC was needed, their would be no continuity of knowledge (the upside/downside of this can be debated, but I think it is a scenario that no one wants).

dorpass says:

More resources doesn't mean they are used wisely


Even though it is hard to see the downside of the faster/better, as many others pointed out, the growing speed of the computers allowed much of the software to grow without control. As much as modern software can accomplish, I have a sneaking suspicion that if the computer processing power was lower, this same software would accomplish the same tasks much more efficiently.

Dewy (profile) says:

Fine, fine

I’m all for innovation and excess power… as well as additional uses for the computer.

But the Forced upgrade obsoletes perfectly usable machines that could goto schools or third world countries.

We need a basic standard that future OS’s and machines adhere to or enhance. Not a new wagon wheel every 6 years and we have to toss the old wagons into the landfill.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

More Computers, More Bugs

One downside to putting computers into everything is that you also put software bugs into everything.

For instance, I managed to trigger an interesting bug in my 15-year-old Panasonic automatic washing machine, where if I lifted the lid before it had finished sounding its six beeps at the end of a complete cycle, then I tried to put in a new load and start another cycle, it would get confused over which part of the cycle it was supposed to be in.

Also my Pioneer DVR-520H DVD hard-drive recorder has a couple of minor bugs in its editing and copying functions.

Do vendors provide software/firmware updates to fix these bugs? No. Is it worth their while to do so? Almost certainly not.

Mark says:

What it touches

The main thing I’ve noticed is that accelerated obsolescence seems to touch everything that contains a microprocessor, more or less in proportion to the microprocessor’s importance in the device’s function. So it isn’t just PCs: it’s cell phones, PDAs, digital cameras, everything (only the space shuttle seems exempt). THAT’S why I don’t want a microprocessor running my refrigerator: because I don’t want to have to buy a new fridge every three years!

Raymond says:

Old Computers

The biggest problem with old computers is that the older ones lack network connections. It’s not the processor they lack, just compatible hardware. I have a 12 year old laptop running windows 3.11 and runs netscape 2.02 very quickly – much quicker than 5 year old desktop with XP.

I’m currently writing this on Xubuntu 7.04 – this is the first time I’ve tried it. You just stick the cd in and it does it’s thing. Click firfox and read techdirt. If you want really low resource linux systems they exist. I expect most readers have a friend who can work it out if they can’t for themselves…

Tim Falkiner says:

Downsides to Moore' Law

There is a lot of wisdom in the comments to this article.
One downside is that the glitz afforded by the new machines has helped to divert managers from using the machines to collect and process the really vital economic and social information.
For example, a court registry system on a PDP11 I helped set up was abandoned for word processors with coloured text on the screens. The managers threw out the relational database for the coloured text.

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