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Question about Laptop Power

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Showing 1-11 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 6, 2012 10:05:37 AM PST
Lao Tzu says:
I am clearly not a computer scientist, but I get the impression that laptops have not been getting more powerful for the last 10 years at least. I upgrade and things pop up with about the same delay as the old laptop.

Is there any truth to my speculation? I cannot believe software complexity accounts for it, because isn't software written very efficiently now?

I also know we were approaching a computational limit with CPUs, hence the move to multi-core processors. My question is - are be being sold a bill of goods, computers portrayed as more powerful by some metric, but not really? The thoughts of you IT experts and enthusiasts are appreciated.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 6, 2012 3:33:02 PM PST
they will never be as fast as desktops

and no software is getting worse
add in antivirus etc
and things are slower
and to save power they do run the chips slower on a laptop
to keep the battery alive longer

i have a 98se machine that runs as fast as my xp with the antivirus on

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 6, 2012 10:31:11 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 6, 2012 10:31:32 PM PST
Ehkzu says:
Computing power has advanced exponentially, but the stuff computers do under the hood to improve your computing experience has also increased exponentially.

Think of a car with an advanced engine, but also with an automatic transmission, a ton of emissions controls, air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, government emission and gas mileage and noise level mandates that have to be met, and you'll see why modern cars of a given type aren't any faster than older ones without all that stuff to power in addition to getting down the road.

My first computer had 48K RAM--that's right, 48K. It was reasonably fast because it didn't have a graphical user interface. Just a command line. I had to memorize lots & lots of commands to do what I wanted to do, including many dozens of formatting commands for word processing, much less spreadsheeting etc.

And the constant, ever-evolving onslaught of malware from Russia,China and other sources means no computer can be run online safely without a massive amount of defensive software on your computer--which on mine updates automatically in background every 15 minutes.

So--more power to do work, but more work done. Just for one example, imagine what it take to enable drag & drop. Or YouTube.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 6, 2012 10:52:41 PM PST
Re OP: There has been some evolution in the computing power of laptops over the past decade or so: the processors are somewhat faster, and RAM and disk space have increased. But much of this power is sopped up by the more complex operating system that the modern machines run. We are rapidly approaching a limit here: the power density of the new processors is so high that cooling has become a huge issue. And this limits the future evolution of these machines to more computing power.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 6, 2012 11:19:43 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 6, 2012 11:24:21 PM PST
Doctor Who says:
Let me guess: you run windows.

The power supply (and cooling capacity) on a laptop is limited, so you are not going to find hardware pushed to the optimum performance as it would drain your battery too quickly.

Microsoft is also really bad at programming an OS. I am serous here!

They use an integrated approach so every layer is interdependent. While this is usually not a problem, it does make it harder to debug. This is a problem. The bigger part of the problem is what happens next, you get updates. The updates are not perfectly integrated into your computer because MS leaves "restore points" (I am not sure what they call them actually) so you can roll back your updates. This is what cause the OS to age and slow down. The reason that new editions also don't bring amazing speed improvements is because there are more and more programs running, usually called daemons. They do important stuff, like check for new media, scan for viruses, etc, but the number grows with each edition of windows. Another factor that slows windows down is the fact that they keep adding features. This makes the code take longer to execute. This is because you are basically adding steps to things like drawing windows or opening a internet browser.

If you want to see what your computer can really do, this is what I would recommend. First, if you have an old laptop (from the 90s is ok, but pushing it) that you are not using, put Linux on it. If you have extra space on your hard drive you might consider a dual boot. This is actually really easy to do and you don't need much of a clue about what you are doing. Its been designed with that in mind.

For your first distribution (commonly referred to as a distro) I would recommend starting off with Debian. It is user friendly and dependable. Fedora is connected to Red Hat and they have been doing some really suspicious things, so I would stay away from them and Ubuntu is... well, also doing funny things. Distros like Arch, Slackware, and Gentoo assume you know what you are doing and are very good at it, so there is no point in trying those right away. I would also recommend getting the XFCE, LXDE, or KDE versions as Gnome is heading in a really weird direction and its interface is not at all like you are use to.

It also comes on a live CD so you can try it without installing it in any way.

Here is the project website.

Did I forget to say it comes with a ton of free software? There are many games as well as tools for everything from word processing to audio editing. Linux is also very resistant to virus, so you don't need to pay for a virus checker. On Linux, this is actually a very bad thing to have because it exposes you to more dangers than it protects. Why windows doesn't fix their OS....

EDIT: fun fact. Until recently I had a lappy from the late 90s with DVD drive and... 60 mb of ram. I had a modern linux distro running on it complete with graphical user interface.

Posted on Nov 7, 2012 2:44:52 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 7, 2012 2:46:12 AM PST
Lao Tzu says:
Thanks for your comments, everyone. Doctor Who, I especially liked your comment about interdependent layers, and more than one of you made that comment that laptops are underpowered because we don't want to tax the battery. That was not something I had thought about.

I think I read somewhere about "cool" running CPUs. I also under that the more we "micro-ize" the CPU, the less heat it gives off, and the more efficient it is.

I need to find an article about that natural limit of processing power with current technology. Some number of micrometers that a "switch" can be, and no smaller?

Anyone know anything about that?

Oh, and Doctor Who, I liked your comments about Linux, but I am too chicken to try it! : /

And just on an emotional level, I would have greatly preferred a computer that, when the mouse is clicked, the response is near instantaneous. Some of the old DOS screens approached this speed. Wouldn't that be nice if my brain was the always the constraint and not just sometimes? xD

Posted on Nov 7, 2012 3:50:17 AM PST
Re Lao Tzu, 11-7 2:44 AM: "Some number of micrometers that a "switch" can be, and no smaller?" The technology is pushing the limits now. The usual size number for a chip is the "feature size" -- the width of a conducting line on the chip. Current chips have feature sizes on the order of 28 nanometers or smaller. Since this is far smaller than the wavelength of visible light, the photographic techniques used to construct the chip are sorely taxed: ultraviolet sources are routinely used. Quantum-mechanical effects are starting to show up too; a feature is only about 100 atoms across so classical physical calculations about features are starting to get a bit dicey. The bottom line is that processors have not gotten much faster over the past decade; increased computing power is achieved by putting multiple processors (called cores) on a single chip, so that more daemons can run at a time. Programming the interactions between these is a considerable challenge: you can wind up with a situation where each of two daemons is waiting for the other to do something [1], and clearing such a jam can be tricky.

1. There used to be a law in Indiana which read something like this: "If two trains meet at a crossing at grade, both shall stop, and neither may proceed until the other has passed." It was eventually repealed.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 7, 2012 9:06:15 AM PST
if you want that speed
get off the net
kill your antivirus
use linux or something other than windoze

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 7, 2012 9:08:04 AM PST

pcs have a problem

the old ibm mainframes solved those problems quite well

but the pc folks tried to reinvent everything the mainframes had done already
and did not do such a good job of it

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 7, 2012 10:10:31 AM PST
Robert: "If two trains meet at a crossing at grade, both shall stop, and neither may proceed until the other has passed."

In Saudi Arabia many tears ago (years is what I really meant but I'll let it stand...) the town of Al Khobar had a road safety week and a big banner across the road said:

dear motorist,
please remember that priority is not yours alone.

In fact priority was usually assumed to belong to the local drivers. Any foreigner involved in an accident was assumed to be the guilty party simply because, if he hadn't been there, the accident wouldn't have happened.

Sorry, back to operating systems.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 10, 2012 8:22:15 AM PST
Jeff Marzano says:
Doctor Who says:

[First, if you have an old laptop (from the 90s is ok, but pushing it) that you are not using, put Linux on it.]

The story of Linux is interesting. This guy took Unix and created a version that runs on x86 systems.

I would say Linus Torvalds is a computer scientist.

Another computer scientist is Larry Wall, the guy who create the Perl programming language and interpreter. Perl is interesting in that it has imbedded within it many capabilities and concepts which evolved with the Unix operating system.

Unix's power is its commands and text processing I guess. Perl is great for working with lines of text.

Jeff Marzano
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Discussion in:  Science forum
Participants:  7
Total posts:  11
Initial post:  Nov 6, 2012
Latest post:  Nov 10, 2012

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