sub specie aeternitatis

286 vs. Pentium 4

October 15, 2006

I bought my current computer a little over two years ago. I think I bought it at a really good time, too. Until the release of Intel’s new Core 2 processor, I have felt no need to upgrade my computer since the 3ghz my processor runs at has been more than efficient for everything I’ve needed to do these past 2 years. I did add extra storage space and get a new video card, but those were upgrades more for fun than pure necessity. So it would seem that the rate of progress in the computer world has slowed down just a bit. Really, I think the Core 2 chips have been the first real breakthrough in the last 2 years. When I bought my 700mhz machine for college, within 2 years my roomate had bought a new machine that ran at 1.4ghz, twice the speed of my machine. Although the Core 2 chips don’t run at 6ghz, they do have twice the processing power with the 2 cores.

But thinking about the slow rate of upgrades in the last 2 years made my wonder: Just how much have computers progressed since my first computer, a big desk hog 286? Yeah its magnitudes faster, holds more data, and added multimedia to its repertoire, but how much has it really changed? In some areas we’ve come a long way. In others, we’re right where we were over 10 years ago:

1. My 286 was a large rectangular box that sat horizontally on my desk. It was a lovely beige color. My Dell is also a large rectangular box, although it sits vertically under my desk. It is black with some extra plastic stuck on the front to make it ‘stylish’.

2. My 286 had a single core processor that ran at 15mhz and had 512 kilobytes of ram to help it on its way. My Dell also is a single core processor, but runs at 3ghz and has 1.5 gigabytes of ram to make those spreadsheets extra zippy.

3. I interact with the Dell’s hardware through one of two operating systems. One is a free OS called Ubuntu (6.06), the other is produced by a company called Microsoft and is found on the majority of computers around the world: Windows XP. My 286 was controlled through one operating system. It was also produced by the Microsoft corporation and was called MS-DOS. (I think it was somewhere around 3.0).

4. My 286 had two input devices: a keyboad and mouse (although the mouse was only used in certain applications). A keyboard and mouse is also how I control my Dell. The mouse is optical and has a scroll wheel while the 286 had 3 buttons and a big dirty ball that controlled movement. Besides the addition of one key (windows key), the keyboards are exactly the same.

5. I looked into the 286 first through a 14′ monochrome monitor that displayed a dazzling disply of dull gold. We later updated to an amazing VGA monitor. A 17′ LCD serves me and my Dell today.

6. The 286 stored system and personal files on a magnetic platter mechanism with a capacity of 30 megabytes. The Dell has 3 of the same type of mechanism. In total, they hold 950 gigabytes of data.

7. Backing up and transfering files on my Dell can be done through burning optical discs, (either a CD with 700 megabytes or a DVD with 4.4 gigabytes), a USB key (up to 4 gigabytes), or a floppy drive (1.44 megabytes). 2 disc drives served the 286: one 5.25″ drive holding up to 1.2mb or a 3.5″ floppy drive holding 1.44mb.

8. I was treated to a variety of delightful blips and bleeps from a little 2′ internal speaker in my 286. I can listen to any recording from my CD collection with my Dell through a pair of M-Audio BX8’s, and can process sound with up to 24-bit/96kHz fidelity.

9. Most graphics intensive game run on the 286: Wolfenstein 3D. On the Dell: Doom 3. (but how much has gameplay improved?)

And the really sad comparison?

10. Both computers are powered from the same source: burning coal.