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How over powered are modern PCs?

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First post, by Jasin Natael

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Just a random thought:

I would say that most modern PCs are mostly way more powerful than they need to be for the average user.
Not speaking of servers or enthusiast gaming rigs....but just the average day to day desktop and mobile PC.

Now of course the opposite can be true and I find that most vendors "minimum specifications" to be laughable (here's looking at you Microsoft)

But unless a guy is buying the lowest dreg Atom based Celeron laptop Wal-Mart has on rollback, most modern machines can do FAR more than they ever get the chance to do.

And I'm no exception here. I have two main personal machines that are workstation/gaming built in mind that really never get used close to their full potential.
I find myself nearly all the time using my work desktop and work laptop because that is all I have time to do.
Neither one of those devices (Dell Optiplex/Latitude stuff) are particularly powerful and yet are mostly more than adequate for the tasks they are called upon.

Just curious if anyone else has a difference of opinion here.

With Windows 11 here and Microsoft laying the axe to so much hardware that is perfectly capable of running their shiny new OS I wonder how much used hardware is going to get tossed in the name of forced obsolescence.
At a time when we REALLY can't afford to do so.

Reply 2 of 87, by Jasin Natael

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Errius wrote on 2021-11-08, 18:43:

You can never have too much speed or storage. This has been true since the 1970s.

I don't disagree.

But how many machines get retired never having been used as the manufacturer intended.
I see people get assigned Precision workstation laptops and know full well they will never use it for anything but Office/Teams/Zoom, and in 3-4 years they will get a new one.

I have one boss who requested a RTX3070 equipped Optiplex and I'm 99% sure she using it to RDP to her desktop at work. I mean great for her she is paying for it what do I care? But still the fact remains......

Reply 3 of 87, by 386SX

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Imho modern computers became faster and faster but what didn't change that much is what people use them for. It doesn't matter if it's a smartphone, a tablet, a notebook or a full desktop, they all are conceptually personal computers with obviously different possibilities from the user point of view and different good or bad points but at the end many ones would find a SBC ARM based board more than enough for most of their work or free time. What changed is that compared to the past people live all day with the technology and most applications need an online/server side so the compatibility or speed of the hardware can decrease when the online apps/services gets heavier and heavier.
So probably they are over powered but I suppose mostly cause apps and the web itself become heavier thanks to this logic. A calculator application that might have been a single executable file of 100 Kbytes in the 90's in future how much will be in size? 100MBytes? It's still a calculator and anyway just like the web I'd not be surprised it might need all sort of GPU acceleration, API, javascripts, frameworks, whatever to do what any personal calculator did since the 70's and probably faster.
When I see for example components drivers size it make me sad compared to the old times... video cards drivers package of 500MB, PDF reader of 100MB, not to mention the weight of a modern antivirus.
If optimization was still a thing like in the 80's and 90's the modern hardware would probably fly in everything but I suppose there're so many dependencies from other softwares that low level code optimization is not possible anymore in the way we were used to imagine it.

Reply 4 of 87, by Jasin Natael

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386SX wrote on 2021-11-08, 18:51:
Imho modern computers became faster and faster but what didn't change that much is what people use them for. It doesn't matter i […]
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Imho modern computers became faster and faster but what didn't change that much is what people use them for. It doesn't matter if it's a smartphone, a tablet, a notebook or a full desktop, they all are conceptually personal computers with obviously different possibilities from the user point of view and different good or bad points but at the end many ones would find a SBC ARM based board more than enough for most of their work or free time. What changed is that compared to the past people live all day with the technology and most applications need an online/server side so the compatibility or speed of the hardware can decrease when the online apps/services gets heavier and heavier.
So probably they are over powered but I suppose mostly cause apps and the web itself become heavier thanks to this logic. A calculator application that might have been a single executable file of 100 Kbytes in the 90's in future how much will be in size? 100MBytes? It's still a calculator and anyway just like the web I'd not be surprised it might need all sort of GPU acceleration, API, javascripts, frameworks, whatever to do what any personal calculator did since the 70's and probably faster.
When I see for example components drivers size it make me sad compared to the old times... video cards drivers package of 500MB, PDF reader of 100MB, not to mention the weight of a modern antivirus.
If optimization was still a thing like in the 80's and 90's the modern hardware would probably fly in everything but I suppose there're so many dependencies from other softwares that low level code optimization is not possible anymore in the way we were used to imagine it.

I think you really hit the nail on the head.
Code optimization is just not a priority.
Why pay workers a wage to waste time optimizing software when you can just raise the minimum specs and know people will just shrug and say "oh, ok. Better buy that new Ryzen chip!"

I mean look at the massive difference a graphics API like Vulkan can make with a well optimized game engine. And DX12 to a much lesser but still noticeable extent.

Reply 5 of 87, by 386SX

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Even if I suppose and understand developers didn't exactly like the old 80's low level coding with very difficult optimizations for very limited hw specs but when I think about modern personal computers compared to the early ones of the 80's and 90's, computers or game console too, it feels like nowdays it's all about changing devices just for the need "to feel updated" not because there're many reasons to. A 1980 personal calculator would still work nowdays just like it was intended for that specific task. Nowdays it looks like many devices already feel old after some months even when they might work for years if supported by sw updates and sw optimization that would not ask 6GB of RAM for a smartphone.
Maybe desktop pc still feel the last device that still have some possibility to work in every tasks leaving the user some expandibility like changing CPU or adding much more RAM or adding faster disk controllers, GPU, when added to some lighter Linux distributions still having updated and last generation softwares and this make a huge difference compared to other devices mantaining old hw alive.
But again over the years I began to understand how much the user think on which devices or few sw they really use and need. I see people buying 60" OLED TVs with all sort of tech and they are probably great indeed, but when I think about my past and having for almost 20 years the same CRT 70's TV until the late 90's and none ever complained about the need of changing it and the same analog signal could work into a 1999 TV just like a 1975 TV I feel like how many things nowdays we actually need or not.

Reply 7 of 87, by weldum

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that's something that you'll only notice on developed countries for the most part
in other countries like where i live (Argentina) is far more common to see people still using older machines, older or slower phones and so on
in some places, things look good or even absurd, and in others it's absurd to see how bloated are the prices for "simple, afordable commodities" like a new computer or cellphone

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Reply 9 of 87, by clueless1

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Even for modern gaming, GPUs are usually a much bigger bottleneck than CPUs. Most of the most demanding games will play just fine on a several generation old i7 with a current high end GPU. Whereas the opposite is not true -- demanding games will play bad on the newest, fastest CPU with a several generation old GPU. So in the gaming world, CPUs can be seen as overpowered compared to GPUs.

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Reply 10 of 87, by BitWrangler

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Though it could also be said that the GPU progression is kinda pointless past about 2014, because all it pushes is resolution, and by the time you're sitting close enough to a 4k screen to tell the difference, you've only got a tiny circle of it in focus and the rest is in peripheral vision and may as well be quarter VGA res. 1080p was the high water mark, much past that is just for specification masturbators, it doesn't really get you anything.

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Reply 11 of 87, by Caluser2000

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As long as it is classed as old and thrown to me for free I think it is a great thing. Then toss Linux on it. Instant performance increase.

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Reply 12 of 87, by darry

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IMHO, if one's needs do not include modern AAA gaming, for personal/home use by joe public, practically anything from the Core2 (quad core preferred) era upwards will currently work well with either Windows 10, or preferably Linux .

My mother was happily using a machine from 2011-ish (Pentium G630 based, AFAICR) until a TV/ monitor upgrade to 4K required a PC upgrade as well (native 4K on a 65" TV is quite nice). The newer machine is obviously faster, but there was nothing wrong with the old one .

I have friends who are still happily using a Xeon E5450 (in a modified P5K Deluxe WIFI AP) with 8GB of RAM and a GTX 1050 as their daily driver and are quite happy with it . That CPU is closing in on 15 years of age .

Reply 13 of 87, by TheMobRules

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Even though I agree in principle that a 10 year old PC should be able to perform the daily tasks of a non-technical/non-gamer user, one must not underestimate the ability of modern ultra-bloated JavaScript to bring powerful computers to their knees. What a mistake it's been to allow UX designers and other "artists" posing as developers to decide how the current day web works... "yeah sure, just include several megabytes of libraries to have a fancy effect on your page!"

Reply 14 of 87, by gerry

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i have always enjoyed the advertising for low end machines - "suitable for basic tasks like browsing and word processing"

this is "true" of a pentium, a celeron, a duron etc etc all the way up a quad core now

browsing is far more demanding than other 'basic tasks' too and today's 'basic tasks' machine can often play a surprising array of 3d games from the 2000's with reasonable performance through its onboard gpu too, if resolution isn't pushed too hard

it's true that programming is often 'wasteful' of cpu cycles and so on, but with getting software out for lower development times the focus i dont blame companies using every library and tool to speed up development and not focus much on fine tuning performance, although mobrules is right in pointing out that some websites can overwhelm even a good quad core with its demands

I wouldn't call modern PCs overpowered as such but i would point out that more modestly specced smart phones, tablets and SBCs seem to cope pretty well with the 'basic tasks' concept - frequently a PC isn't necessary

Reply 15 of 87, by Joakim

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Depends on what you want to do of course. Like gerry I agree that surfing is certainly not a basic task with regard to RAM and CPU consumption.

With regard to gaming, my ~10 year old i5 processor can handle the modern games I like, which I guess means that newer ones are over powered for my needs.

I actually think that for most usage cases, corporate computers are over powered. With a good connection I believe most companies would gain from cloud computing with terminal-like laptops. Even or even especially for heavy computer usage. There is still lag today but looking at how far Nvidia Geforce Now has come I think there should be no problem to reduce it.

I believe in the reincarnation of computer terminals.

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Reply 16 of 87, by fxgogo

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weldum wrote on 2021-11-08, 23:43:

that's something that you'll only notice on developed countries for the most part
in other countries like where i live (Argentina) is far more common to see people still using older machines, older or slower phones and so on
in some places, things look good or even absurd, and in others it's absurd to see how bloated are the prices for "simple, affordable commodities" like a new computer or cellphone

That is so true. I come from South Africa, where a similar thing happens. As a society we really do not think about what we need these things for. It is almost like we buy new stuff just because we have spare cash to burn. There is also planned obsolescence, which considering the state of the earth is a crime against humanity and every other living thing in the world.

To be honest, my recently resurrected Pentium 133 works just brilliantly and as long as I stay away from the WWW, I can do all my writing and coding I do on my laptop and iPad.

Reply 17 of 87, by 386SX

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Also sometimes it makes you think about how much eletric power modern hw ask for. In the 90's most hw didn't even have an heatsink and nowdays liquid cooling or double slot gpu cooler are common.. how much would they perform if intended to run theorically with a passive cooler or like a 80386/80486 cpu with only the package itself? Are 500, 700 watts really acceptable eletric values for middle-high end computers when measured at the wall?
When tested a common middle end early 90's PC at the wall asked for 50 to 100W watts in the worst case of highest end hw. If the technology of those times would have allowed it, a 500W 80486 config how would have been accepted by the consumer? About the web everything has been already said, the complexity of most webpages and browsers/API/hw requirements to actually make a web page usable and compatible nowdays is really reaching a point where web pages are heavier than a full 3D real time benchmark. The web page has become a sort of real time application to compile each time is refreshed and this added to multimedia codecs, ads, gfx effects totally pointless sometimes make me wonder if the old 56K modem times were actually faster with a bit more patience when at least the text was much more important in a web page and already readable meanwhile the other parts of the page was loaded.
I suppose the web slowly became the new TV with a different main concept to exist that it's not the old one anymore similar to a static newspaper but more on demand server side services like also most old style light apps evolved into.

Reply 18 of 87, by Con 2 botones

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Agreed. Most of the time current (high end) hardware is overpowered for regular needs.

Unless you are going to edit videos (and make a living of it) you won´t need a Threadripper or even a Ryzen 9 (or the Intel equivalents), for instance.

I wish we had the possibility to build ARM/Risc V systems, by picking parts, just like it happens with IBM PC compatible parts. On the software side compatibility has been raising.

Reply 19 of 87, by chinny22

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As fate would have it seems my daily drivers last about 10 years.

My current personal PC is a 2012 laptop , 2nd Gen i3 and integrated graphics running Win7, No plans to replace it yet as it can handle basic web browsing fine.
Before that I was using a 2003 era S478 Compaq D510 running WinXP, that really was struggling with web browsing in 2012.

So for basic home use does seem like we have enough power for the time been.
That is one thing I don't miss about the "good old days" PC's becoming obsolete in under 5 years.

surf's the web just fine, It's most demanding task
My previous computer a from around 2003 was