I’m building my first new PC in… a really long time. Depending on how you count, about a dozen years. My daily driver for the past half-dozen, since 2014, has been an Intel NUC. Technically I “built” it in the sense that I assembled it, but it was basically a laptop in a fancy square box. I didn’t make many decisions in terms of components that weren’t effectively already made for me. My last build prior to that was in 2008, which was eons ago.
In the interim, I’ve had a good number of laptops. While I don’t remember a lot of the specifics, I’ve had some cheap Asus/Acer laptops I’ve bought myself, and some (comparatively) nicer Thinkpads from work. If I ever buy myself a laptop again, it’ll probably be a Thinkpad.
A dozen years is a long time. Between 2008 and now, a lot has changed, but not nearly as much as had changed in the dozen years before that, when I first got into computers. I remember the changes from PCI to AGP for video cards, quite a few different memory formats, the switch from ATA33 to ATA66 to SATA, the rise of CD-ROMs, then CD-Rs, then DVDs, then DVD-Rs. The disappearance of floppy drives. The disappearance of modems. The disappearance of external sound cards, and later, of external network cards.
By comparison, PCs today are boring. But more to the point, the changes in the last dozen years have been boring. Yes, I’m excited to get a new computer. Benchmarking tells me my new video card will be 30x faster than my old on-chip one, and the CPU will be roughly twice as fast on single-threaded, and 10x as fast on multi-threaded applications. I’ll have twice the memory, not because I need it, but because I might someday. And, only the same amount of local disk space, albeit blazingly faster, with plenty of room to expand.
I’m excited, but Moore’s Law hasn’t borne out. My new computer will be much better, but to what end? In the 90s, and to some extent the 2000s, every time I upgraded my computer, I opened new doors. I got access to things I couldn’t before. I could see more than 256 colors, I could browse the web with images enabled, I could play new games, I could burn CDs, I could hear with surround sound, I could finally store everything I needed to store.
And I spent an embarrassing amount of money for that privilege. Through much of my teens and early twenties, I probably blew the majority of my disposable income on computer parts. Now? It’s a drop in the bucket, relatively speaking. That’s a good thing. It speaks to my privilege to be able to say that, but I’m also glad that others have access under easier terms than I did growing up.
I’ve changed, but so has the world. The last time I built a “real” computer, the iPhone was just a year old, and Android hadn’t yet appeared. People didn’t walk around with a functional computer in their pockets. People didn’t talk to Google Home or Siri or Alexa. Now I have more computing power in the dash of my truck, or heck, in my thermostat, than I built from scratch growing up.