Moore’s Law vs. Good Enough

NetbooksA transition is taking place in the computer industry. Most often this transition is described as Post-PC, but another way, maybe a more accurate way, to describe the transition is from Moore’s Law to Good Enough.

Post-PC most commonly means the replacement of desktops and notebooks as primary personal computing devices by tablets and smartphones. Where do Chromebooks, which according to Computerworld now account for 21% of notebook computer sales, fit in Post-PC?

I think the transition currently occurring in the computer industry reflects a change in what is driving the industry. We may consider 1995 a milestone for personal computer sales. The period was started by Windows 95 and fueled by Moore’s Law.

Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, is credited for Moore’s Law, which basically means the number of transistors on a 1-inch diameter of silicon doubles every 18 to 24 months. Moore’s Law has become shorthand for describing the constantly increasing computer processing power that allows for more powerful software that enable us to use computers in ways we have not thought possible.

When one was considering purchasing a PC during the late ’90s, the rule of thumb was to buy one that had as fast a processor and as much memory as you could afford. Moore’s Law also drove how developers, particularly Microsoft, designed software.

Microsoft designed their software, particularly Windows, to take full advantage of the computing power that will become available soon but might not be available right now, or if it is available now, it is expensive. The current version of Microsoft’s product might not work great right now, but in the next iteration or two, when the processing power needed to make their software run really well became widely available, then the product will be really, really good.

The computer industry convinced users that they needed the latest and greatest hardware so that you can run the latest and greatest software and the result was typical price for a “good” computer that was around $1,000, a “great” computer might cost you $1,500 or more.

In 2007 ASUS released the Eee PC, which was a small, 2 lb, notebook computer with a 800 x 480 resolution display running a variant of Linux that only cost $299. At the time there was no other small notebook computer that one could buy for that low of a price.

The original ASUS Eee PC 701 with only 4 GB of Solid State Storage (SSD) and Linux did not sell at huge numbers, but enough were sold to encourage other companies to sell their own version of these netbooks. Soon versions of netbooks became available with larger storage devices and Windows XP, and these versions, most of which had a $300 to $400 price began to sell at high numbers.

Netbooks did not have the latest and greatest processors, memory, storage, or displays, but they were cheap and they ran the software that most people needed. Most people who bought netbooks were willing to buy “good enough” hardware for a lower price.

To be sure, some people who bought netbooks were disappointed by their performance and returned them, but that did not prevent netbooks from having a huge impact on the personal computer industry. People no longer shopped for the computer that had the fastest processors, the most storage, or the most memory, and instead shopped for the computer with the lowest price. Today you don’t need to spend more than $400 for a good desktop computer and a good notebook computer can be bought for $500, often less.

Moore’s Law no longer drives which computers people buy, and perhaps more importantly, “good enough” drives how frequently one buys a new computer. When the industry was driven by Moore’s Law one might have bought a new computer every three years, now people find that the computer they own good enough to be used for five years or more.

With people finding their current computer to be good enough, the sales numbers of desktop and notebook computers are diminishing every year. Another change is that the trend of multiple desktop and notebook computers in a household is changing to one aging computer and multiple tablets, often with one tablet per person.

Tablets have replaced netbooks as the device of choice for portability, and for many tablets are “good enough” to be their only personal computing device. Most people are happy to be off the Moore’s Law treadmill, and are happy with computing devices that are good enough to get the job done and don’t require a lot of time to maintain.

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About Frank

Mobile enthusiast and author
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