Monday, September 14, 2009

Evolution of PC

I was reading yet another article on the relative merits of Mac vs PC. There were many comments that made the point that Macs lost a lot longer than PCs. That got me thinking of whether that was really the case. How long had my PC’s lasted? I realized that I didn’t really know and set out on a trip down memory lane to catalogue the various computers that me and my family have owned.

Siva PC: This was bought by my father in the 80s as an office computer. It cost almost 60,000 rupees (in 80’s money). I think it had a 8086 processor, 640KB of RAM, a 20 MB hard disk and a green screen monitor. Needless to say, it only ran DOS and software like Lotus 1-2-3, Wordstar etc. I don’t think we got too much of usage out of it while my father’s factory was operational, except for some financial accounting. After we closed the factory, we brought the computer home and I remember playing around with it for a few years before it died a natural death.

- Assembled PC #1: The next computer I bought was an assembled PC in 1996. I boasted a 100 Mhz Pentium processor, a massive 4 MB of RAM, a 1 GB hard disk, CD-ROM and a colour monitor. It cost me almost 40,000 rupees back then. I used it till around 2000 when I upgraded to Assembled PC #2. I don’t remember what I did with it, most likely we just gave it away.

- Computer in US : When I went onsite for the second time in late 1996, I bought a computer at Fry’s electronics. It was a slightly more powerful version of the one I had at home with a 133 Mhz processor. I sold it to my roommate when I returned for good. That was also the trip where I bought a 16 MB RAM stick for my PC in India for an unworldly price of 350 dollars.

As Built PC #1: In 2000, it was finally time to upgrade my PC and Vidya and I decided to build a PC together. I had bought a CPU and hard disk from the US and we went to SP Road to buy the remaining parts. We ended up with a Celeron 667, 128 MB of SDRAM (which I later upgraded to 384 MB), a 4.3 GB hard drive and a CDROM (later upgraded to a CD-writer). We retained the 15 inch monitor from the PC which we later upgraded to a second hand 17 inch in 2003. We used this PC till the end of 2004, but when we came back to Bangalore, we stopped using it. I used some of the parts (memory, hard drive) on PC#3, and to my surprise, managed to sell the remaining parts in 2006 for around 1000 rupees.

- Australia PC: When we went to Australia in 2002, we initially picked up a cheap second hand computer, a Pentium 2 model. A few months later, when it seemed like Vidya’s work from home plan would fructify, we invested in a proper model, a Pentium 3 – 700 Mhz monster with 512 MB of RAM, 20 GB hard disk, 17 inch monitor etc for 700 australian dollars. When we returned back to India in 2003, we sold it to my friend Venky.

- PC Build #2: After returning back to India in 2003, we moved to Mangalore. In Bangalore, my mother was left without a PC. In 2004, I built the third computer. Unlike the previous computer where I salvaged a lot of parts, this was a complete unit, with a Athlon XP 2000+, 512 MB of RAM, 40 GB hard disk, DVD drive and a 17 inch Samsung monitor. This computer survives till this day, though in a very different form. The guts of the machine (MB+CPU, RAM, HDD) are now in my father-in-law’s machine at Chennai.I’ve upgraded those to a 2.66 GHz Core2Duo E6700 with 2 GB of RAM and 570 GB of hard disk space. The monitor has been exchanged for a 19 inch Viewsonic LCD. The case, keyboard, mouse, speakers and UPS remain functional a full 5 years later. The OS has also evolved, I initially used a copy of Windows 2000, switched to a legal OEM copy of Windows XP in 2006 and when I upgraded the CPU in late 2007, bought a full version of Windows Vista Home Premium.

- Laptop #1: I’ve never been a fan of laptops, despite using a laptop as my primary work machine since 2002. In my view, they were slow and expensive. I finally bit the bullet in 2007 and bought a HP dv6516 tx as a birthday present for Vidya. It cost almost 60000 rupees and had a 1.5 GHz Core2Duo processor, 2 GB of RAM, 160 GB hard drive, 15.4 inch screen and a DVD drive. It came with Windows Vista Home Premium. Except for some reliability with wireless networking, it has performed flawlessly over the past 2 years. I upgraded the machine to the RC version of Windows 7 and intend to upgrade to the full version in October. At the same time, I'll probably upgrade the hard drive to a 500 GB one.

- The Future: Both of my computers are fast enough for anything that I throw at them, whether it is browsing or playing games or encoding movies (OK, the laptop is not, but I would not ever transcode a movie on a laptop when a desktop is available as an option). Another big change is the rise of portable computing through devices like the iphone and Nokia internet tablet. As they evolve, they make the case for a full sized desktop or laptop that much less compelling. So, I don’t see myself upgrading my current setup anytime soon, unless something breaks.

Looking back, I see that pretty much every computer has lasted me atleast 3-4 years, so much for PC’s being unreliable. I’ve also had a lot of good luck with components, very few of them have failed on me. Just listing them down has shown how much progress the PC industry has made in terms of speed and specifications. I remember encoding mp3 in 1997, it used to run at 1/3 speed (i.e. over 15 minutes for a 5 minute song). My current computer can transcode video at 5x speed (120 fps for H.264 compression).

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