March of the Midgets

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If there was a story at Cebit this week, it was the march of the midgets. Small was in.

If anything, the competition wasn’t big vs. little. It was small vs. tiny. Would you like your PC the size of an overgrown shoebox, or would you like a PC-lite one the size of an overgrown car stereo?

If you’ve been asleep about the latter, this website ought to give you a rude awakening.

These developments are of particular personal interest. I’ve started to look around for a low-powered office computer for myself, and I’m finding myself thinking some very strange thoughts for somebody writing for Overclockers.com.

I’ve looked at the EPIAs, and while they seem a wee bit underpowered, and don’t have digital video outputs for an LCD to go with it, it would be nice to just carry a computer with you when some friend is having problems with his.

The shoeboxes offer enough power and more; but shoeboxes aren’t too good places to keep some of the incendiary devices we call CPUs and video cards nowadays.

This leaves one thinking of strange possible tactics, like taking a 2.4GHz 200MHz PIV and underclocking to get myself a 1.6 or 1.8 HT processor.

Or, given the prices of these things, you can look at the two options, and say “maybe I’ll do both.” Imagine saying that even five years ago.

Trading Power For . . . .

For the first time in the PC era, a lot of people can legitimately say, “I have enough power chips on the table. Let me trade some of them in for something else. Like quiet. Ot size. Or portability.”

The hardware has outrun the software, and the software shows no signs of catching up any time soon. Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t.

Power users, gamers, server people, be quiet for a minute and hear me out. Just what is Joe Sixpack and Suit going to be using that’s going to require all this power. Not you, them.

I don’t see anything big on the horizon for the Joes.

If that’s the case, you have to come up with something else to get people to buy new boxes, and that what’s all those small and tiny boxes mean. They mean, “Enough, use the technology to give me something else.”

The shoeboxes are scary enough for the big hardware people, but the EPIAs should make them defecate water. Not today, not tomorrow, but in a couple years, look out. Make that EPIA as powerful as your typical Athlon XP or low-end PIV, and who isn’t going to buy it?

The power users, the gamers, the server people. If all the Joes are buying car stereo computers, who is going to foot the R&D bill for your stuff?

Forget Intel vs. AMD in the long run. That competition is in danger of becoming like the competition among the American TV networks. The real story isn’t who wins or loses; it’s the dwindling audience.

No, the forerunner of the real future PC competition are those small and tiny boxes vs. the old approach. Joes vs. Geeks. That’s really the big issue for the rest of this decade: does the average computer become a Joe Show or stay a Geek Show?

Do You Care?

Obviously, small and tiny doesn’t exactly lend itself to the hunt for speed. So at first glance, this trend would seem to be very bad news for overclocking.

In the narrow sense, that may well end up being true, but I don’t think so in the broader sense.

What’s happened in the last couple years is that what was the overclocker’s market has given birth to a wide variety of spinoffs.

First, the physical act of overclocking became less important to many as CPU prices dropped. For some, cheap high performance computing no longer required O/Cing.

For others, overclocking became not a hobby, but a sport, and those folks went in the opposite direction. Extreme cooling was no longer a DIYer only activity.

Others did whatever they were going to do to the functioning parts, said, “Now what do you do?” and decided, “Let’s make it pretty,” so the whole case mod industry developed.

Yet others did their thing to the equipment, said, “I can’t hear myself,” and created a quiet PC industry.

I see the shoeboxes and car stereos to be another offshoot, one with multiple parents, but whose common heritage is one of tinkering with the stuff. If you look at the website mentioned at the beginning of this article today, you’ll see some overclocking, you’ll see a lot of case mods. Tomorrow or the week thereafter, you may see ultra low-voltage computing.

To me, all of this stems from the same impulse: to take equipment in new and different directions. What we’ve found in the last couple years is that there are a lot of different directions.

I personally think it’s silly to set up walls and boundaries on creative impulse. The champion overclocker of today might want a new challenge and do the exact opposite tomorrow. Do we wear blinders and throw him out of the church, or do we take a broader view and welcome those who want to do something with equipment rather than just use it?

What do you think?

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