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jjohn (22)

jjohn
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Perl hack/Linux buff/OSS junkie.

Journal of jjohn (22)

Sunday April 29, 2001
01:28 PM

Falling Prices; Hidden Value

[ #118 ]

I'm depressed. I have to buy a new Windows box. Although I only use it for games and to watch TV (thanks to my ATI All-in-Wonder card), I find that that's enough. There were days when I would spend months combing through Computer Shopper looking for the best deals on the perfect machine, but those days are long gone.

Remember when computers were cool? Pawing through the latest trade mag searching for cool new gizmos to slap onto your already overburdened PC; deciding which sound card was right for you; drooling over 56K modems. Good times good times.

There was something exciting about each new release of an Intel chip. When I read advertisements for 486DX 100Mhz machines with 16Mb of RAM, I couldn't imagine how fast that was. It was like someone telling me I could go from Boston to Toyko in an hour.

The applications were more exciting too. Games like Doom and Myst really brought PCs into the world of multimedia. After all, a fancy 512K video card and 16 bit Sound Blaster don't do much for WordPerfect. PCs were emerging from the world of dry Lotus spreadsheets into the world of consumers.

Somewhere in the near past, PCs got stale. Sure Intel releases faster chips sooner than ever before and I guess DVD players are nice, but these things are prosiac and expected. When the original Pentium chip came out, Intel made it seem like the monolith from 2001; mysterious, powerful and totally necessary for life as we know it. Microsoft promoted Windows 95 more like a rock band than software. But, what's going on now? Dubious performance numbers for the P4 and endless service patches are the hallmarks of today's PC industry. The romance is very, very dead.

What's interesting these days is that Intel is dramatically slashing the prices on its Pentium IV chips. More than ever, the price of complete PC units are approaching zero. In many ways, this is a great thing. More people than ever will have access to computers, which are good at not just computation, but communication and research. However, the commodification and ubiquity of the PC comes at a price.

I was watching a show about the automobiles of the 1930's featuring Deusenbergs. Although I don't own a car and don't particularly care for driving, I was fascinated by these machines. They are the quintessential marriage of style and performance. Not only were these cars the most powerful of their day, but they were all unique and breathtaking gorgeous. These cars are a monument to craftsmanship and near flawless execution.

Despite any rose-coloring of the nineties on my part, the PC makers never came close to a Deusenberg (nor has Apple, I-Mac not withstanding). I suppose I yearn for a golden age in which PCs were as much an expression of style and craftsmanship as a tool for computing.

So as both the glamour and price of PCs drop to zero, what is left for the PC enthusiast?

Mmm. Maybe I will just get an I-Mac. :->