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// Tales from software development

Moore's law: Laptops

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Over the past nine years I’ve bought several laptops from Dell. It’s interesting to look at how the specifications and prices have changed.

Moore’s Law makes the observation that, historically, computing power has doubled roughly every two years. Although Moore didn’t specifically state this, it’s generally considered that this doubling in computing power is delivered to the consumer for the same cost. So, roughly every two years we get twice the computing power for the same price. As manufacturers have sought to lower the entry cost of a computer they’ve flipped this around to offer the same computing power for half the price every two years.

As an example, here’s three of the laptops that I’ve purchased:

2000: Dell Inspiron 5000e / Intel Pentium 4 733Mhz / 256Mb RAM / 30Gb disk – £2200

2005: Dell Inspiron 9200 / Intel Pentium 4 1.6Ghz / 1Gb RAM / 60Gb disk – £1500

2009: Dell Vostro 1710 / Intel Core Duo 2.6Ghz / 4Gb RAM / 320Gb disk – £750

The correlation to Moore’s Law is striking. These three laptops were bought at intervals of approximately 4 years and each cost roughly half what the previous laptop cost and delivered twice the computing power, four times the memory, and at least twice the disk capacity.

The reduction in cost is particularly impressive when you consider the additional features that we take for granted on a modern laptop – high resolution screen, NIC, WiFi, memory card reader, etc. The Dell Inspiron 5000e was a premium laptop when purchased in 2000 but had no built-in network connectivity. That seems astonishing in today’s online world. A PCMCIA network adapter cost another £120. I replaced this in 2003 with a IEEE 802.11 B WiFi card that cost £40. A year later this was replaced with a IEEE 802.11 G card costing £20.

However, what Moore’s Law doesn’t tell us is exactly how manufacturers achieve the reduction in prices. The latest laptop is probably the least well built of the three and the keyboard is amongst the worst I’ve ever used. Perhaps this is a slightly unfair comparison as the Vostro is Dell’s newer range targeting the home and low-end business market but it must reflect, to some extent, the fact that it’s just not possible to build a laptop to the same quaility level when you halve the retail cost every couple of years.

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Written by Sea Monkey

June 5, 2009 at 7:00 am

Posted in Comment

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