Changes in computers

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The world of tech evolves quickly, and seems to be accelerating. I’ve not touched on tablets nor smart phones in this blog post, as this is about hardware and specifically desktop and laptop hardware.

CPU - The brain of the computer

The CPU or Central Processing Unit is the brain of the computer and runs programs that are stored in memory and on storage devices.

In the past, the manufacturers made the CPU larger with more transistors (which behave like little switches) and a larger size each time to help with dissipating heat.

Now the CPU manufacturers are making the CPU thinner and having more pins to transfer more data at the same time.

The added advantages of making the CPU thinner is that it uses less power, and runs cooler so the computer can be made smaller. Additionally, with each generation, there is an increase in performance.

In addition, the computer’s motherboard needed more chips to do features that the CPU now does, which not only makes the computer faster because there are less bottlenecks, but there are also less components to go wrong.

RAM - Memory

Memory manufacturers are creating faster memory that works on lower voltages.

Each generation of memory (DDR, DDR2, DDR3, DDR4) is twice as fast as the previous generation and uses much less power.

PSU - Power Supply Unit

PSU manufacturers are making smaller and lighter power supplies because computers don’t need to use so much power.

In some desktop PCs, the power supply has become inline, like with laptop PCs. There is also another kind of computer that plugs into and is powered by the HDMI port on a monitor, dispensing the need for a separate power supply.

There is a direction to using a USB-C power supply that is the same size and power as a mobile phone charger.

Storage

In past computers, floppy drives used to spin a thin magnetic material and a head would read and write to that magnetic material by flipping over magnetic particles. Like floppy drives, hard drives work by a much similar principle, replacing the floppy material with a hard metal surface.

With the advent of the CD ROM, this hard metal surface was replaced with a pitted plastic disc that could be etched by a laser. DVD-ROMs soon followed the CD offering greater storage capacity (just over 6 times) and Blu-Ray (just over 5 times the DVD or 30 times a CD).

Now all these are becoming obsolete with the advent of the SSD or Solid State Drive.

There are typically two kinds of SSD, the ones that can replace a hard drive like for like, known as SATA, and can offer up to 10x improvement in speed, more reliable and since they have no moving parts, draw less power.

The second type of SSD called NVMe is designed to replace the interface the hard drive used with something that can talk directly with the CPU and memory, and currently tops out at about 5x faster than SATA drives. As this technology matures, this will become the go-to storage medium.

Physical size is an interesting one. In early computers where 13″ floppies used to be commonplace and 8″ hard drives which were replaced by 5.25″ then 3.5″ and in laptops 2.5″ wide. the new NVMe drives can be just over 1″ wide and up to 4″ long.

USB - The universal connector

It wasn’t that long ago that everything needed its own connector. Serial mice and modems; printers; keyboards; etc.

With the implementation of the USB port, gradually each device had a single connector. Now with USB 3.1, the USB-C connector can provide enough power to power the computer, fast enough to deliver 4K video and external storage at the same time.

Motherboard - Connect everything together

In the past, computers needed motherboards to be able to provide expansion, so you could plug in the hard drive card or the sound card, and in some cases a mouse card. Since the introduction of the USB port, a lot of these expansion options have fallen by the wayside.

Removing the need to support CD or older hardware such as previous generation hard drives, motherboard manufacturers have been creating ever smaller and simpler motherboards.

Intel released their 4″ square NUC PC and then followed it with the Compute Stick, which is essentially your computer on a memory stick you carry around with you and plug into HDMI for power and screen.

Since NVMe is incredibly small, it can be incorporated on the motherboard and you have a computer that is blisteringly fast and a micro form factor that can be hidden behind a monitor or under a desk where nobody needs to see it, you gain more legroom and the computer area is less cluttered.

Operating System

The Operating System of a computer is perhaps the last thing considered about the computer and provides the glue that joins the input and output parts of the computer to the user.

In the past, it needed to wait for floppy and hard drives to spin up and seek the data, whereas today with SSD, that data is near instant.

In addition to that, making better use of modern technology such as the Internet, operating systems can do things in much better ways. Take for instance the microphone, which served as a method of recording speech and audio can be used for video conferencing and it can be used to control the computer through speech recognition as well as interact with the Internet. Words can also be read aloud using TTS or Text to Speech

Conclusion

Your next computer will be noticeably quicker and use a lot less power to do the same tasks as your old computer.

This also means that the size of the computer doesn’t have to be so large, since the need to make computers large was the need for expansion, and everything is going USB so

In the case of a laptop, the battery will last longer and you will be able to get more done.

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