The Eternal Now

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The Optimal Time

We have a certain philosophy about buying computer equipment. We believe there are better and worse times to buy computer equipment.

We believe the best time to buy is when you can cheaply buy a generation of technology at the point where it has:

a) reached most of its potential and

b) there will not be a significant advance (i.e. a new generation) for some time to come after that.

In short, the point at which you’ll get little additional performance and/or financial benefit from waiting any longer.

The PIVs are a good example of this. The Northwoods aren’t going to get much better or cheaper after we get the C1 steppings (the 1.8As will end up costing around $130-140). PIVs won’t get much better than that until Prescott a year or so from now.

Provided that the initial dual DDR boards are stable (which seems likely for at least the Intel boards for the simple reason that they were in good enough shape to be benchmarked four months before release); there won’t be any significant advance there until we see DDR-II motherboards.

So it’s pretty safe to say that the system you can put together in November 2002 won’t be significantly beaten by another Intel system for about nine months.

What About Hammer, Barton?

Whether such a system won’t be beaten by an AMD system is quite another story. Personally, if I were AMD, I’d get some preliminary Hammer benchmarks out there soon. Even completely biased ones. 🙂

My suspicion is that general comparison between Hammer and the PIV will be even more useless than they are now. I suspect Hammer will likely beat the PIV by a lot at certain things, but lose by a lot in others.

You might say, “Well, why didn’t you demand that from Northwood?” Well, Northwood wasn’t much different than the initial Willie. Architecturally, the major difference was the increased cache, and the difference in performance was fairly predictable.

(The same could be said of Barton; the critical question there is not how much better it will do with another 256Kb cache (we can guesstimate that), but how fast it can run.)

Hammer is another kettle of fish. From the tiny brief glimpses we’ve seen, that built-in memory controller helps some things an awful lot, others hardly at all.

On the other hand, if past performances mean anything, motherboard support is likely to be rocky, and pioneers will probably get a few arrows.

As we’ve pointed out, whatever Intel is going to have, it will have by November. Should people buy then, or wait for Hammer?

Personally, I’m uncomfortable saying “Go PIV” to anybody who might want a Hammer system. Problem is, we have practically nothing to base that on, and it’s hard to tell people “Don’t buy a Christmas system because Hammer might be better for some things based on extrapolations of a few benchmarks run at 800MHz last summer.” That’s not much to go by.

If AMD got some numbers out, and soon, it would give a lot of people at least some reason not to buy PIV systems the rest of the year.

It’s Not For Everybody

This approach makes certain assumptions. It assumes that you are limited in the number of times you can upgrade and the amount of money you can spend on computer equipment. It assumes that your purchase is time-optional (you are not being forced by external circumstances to buy by a certain date). Finally, it presumes that there are no gaping current deficiencies in your current system.

These assumptions don’t fit everyone. If you have the budget (or are a “use and eBay” veteran), this isn’t meant for you. If you need a new computer for school, it’s hard to wait until November for it. If your current system is a Pentium 166, the pain from waiting far exceeds any gain.

Those are legitimate reasons. There are others that are less so.

The Eternal Now

There are some who like this advice. There are others that don’t, and indeed, rather object to it.

These people believe in what I call The Eternal Now doctrine. Here is how I think it goes:

A person has a computer system. Usually (but not always), he has left it alone for a while.

Then The Event occurs. For whatever reason, the owner of the computer determines (often suddenly), “My computer sucks.” This determination may be reasonably objective (“I can’t play this new game decently”); it may be either or also psychological (“I am behind the Jones’. Because my computer sucks, I suck.”)

The aftermath of The Event often leaves the owner in considerable emotional turmoil, especially when psychological factors predominate. The owner goes from apathy to red alert, and is determined to remedy the problem and remedy it NOW.

This leaves the now would-be buyer in an emotional and essentially irrational state on the subject of when to buy. There is no past. There is no future. There is only the need to self-gratify NOW, and the greater the degree of self-identication with the computer, the more pressing and insistent the need.

At such times, trying to explain the benefits of The Optimal Time to those in such a frenzy is much like telling a salmon waiting to mate, “Why don’t you wait a couple months and avoid the rush?”

(If this doesn’t sound like you, then I’m not talking about you. If you have a GF2 and get a game that doesn’t run right with it, you are not a loon if you look around a bit, find out that a Radeon 8500 or Ti4200 runs it fine, and want to buy one. If your reaction to that set of events is rather “I must buy a R9700 or die trying,” you may be whom I’m talking about. :))

At such times, you hear comments like:

“But I want it.” (said in a tone as final and conclusive as “I need air to breathe.”)
“There will always be something better down the road; it doesn’t matter when you buy.”

These are essentially emotional arguments or rationalizations.

If this website has one big bias, it is in favor of reason and against extreme emotion in this arena. After all, you are basically buying processed sand, a cyberscrewdriver.

This is not to say some degree of emotion is unacceptable. If a carpenter or mechanic buys a set of high-quality tools, there’s nothing wrong in being pleased or satisfied with the purchase. But he doesn’t get emotionally overwraught about it.

I think the line gets crossed when you stop identifying a computer as a tool or toy and start identifying it as part of yourself. It’s at that point when the emotional faucets get turned on.

A good tool lets you do a job better. It doesn’t make you a better human being. Use things, don’t identify with them. Don’t define yourself by your things. Love your woman, not your computer.

My Universe, My Rules

I get more than a few complaints about my looking ahead, or trying to put pieces of the puzzle together to come up with less-than-certain explanations for events (usually when the puzzlemaker won’t). I’m not talking about people who think I’m wrong or just don’t like my conclusions; I’m talking who object to doing it, period.

This really disturbs some people, and that has always puzzled me.

After a little reading on the subject, I think I know why.

Some have observed that the technically-inclined tend to like closed systems with simple, clear rules. A video game is an excellent example of a closed system; it follows a finite set of rules. Once you know all the rules, you are well-equipped to handle the game.

The problem, of course, is that the world is (for practical purposes) an open system. Not only are there far, far more rules than in a video game, but different people play by different rules, and you often don’t know what they are (or sometimes ever find out).

Video games are neat. Life is messy. So some who like life neat try to live their lives like it were a video games, and if it doesn’t fit the rules, it isn’t there.

Time is one of those messy incertitudes. You can’t predict the future with certainty, so ban it from your world.

Of course, the universe pays not the slightest attention to this.

Theory should fit reality, not the other way around. You live in reality; it doesn’t live in you.

Leaving Yourself Open

If you want to sell somebody something, especially something that will shortly be outdated, who would you rather have as a customer? Someone with or without a pressing need to buy something now?

Resellers like The Eternal Now much, much better than The Optimal Time. They like it so much, they spend billions of dollars in advertising hoping it will tip you over into The Event. Or, even better, gradually make you into an Eternal Now disciple, so that you’ll automatically respond like trained seals with little or even any encouragement.

I’ve even had a few folks over the course of time essentially agree with me on these points, then say, “But what can I do about it?” like they have no choice.

The answer is very simple, “Don’t do it.” You can take a different road.

This doesn’t mean you turn into Spock. Nobody acts Vulcan all the time. You shouldn’t suffer guilt pangs because 7-11 enticed you into buying a two-liter rather than one-liter Coke. An extra piece of cake only destroys a diet if you let it.

Just try to get into the habit of thinking more and feeling less when you buy at least the biggies, and remember that the universe has four dimensions, not three.

The Eternal Now In Action

Let me mention a few recent examples of this. I won’t mention where they come from because it really is so common that there’s no point singling a particular place out.

1) The ideal gaming system was described. Included was a 2.4B PIV processor. In three weeks, the price on this will drop $150. $150 represents 7.5% of the total cost of the system; it’s hardly negigible. Does this little fact of nature get mentioned even as an item to be considered? No. The R9700 does get mentioned, but the only reason I can see for that is that this was an August review, and the Intel price cut falls in September.

2) In another piece, delays in the NV30 due to poor yields of the GPU get described. I suppose that’s useful information for those who absolutely must buy a video card two weeks or two months from now or for Christmas, but if you’re one of those folks, you should ask yourself “Why do I need to buy a video card two weeks or months from now or for Christmas?” Some will have good answers to that, others won’t.

This is bad news to nVidia to the extent its customer live in The Eternal Now (and many do, especially if December 25 becomes part of that). It’s only very bad news to you to the extent that you (or perhaps a gift recipient) lives in The Eternal Now.

This doesn’t mean some people who wouldn’t have bought an R9700 knowing an NV30 would come in two months might not rationally change their minds if the wait will be three or four. Just not everybody.

The NV30 then gets called better than the R9700 on paper, but then what at least many would consider pretty important gets called “moot” (which is a fancy word meaning “irrelevant”) because it won’t be out for a while. It’s only moot when you live in The Eternal Now.

A bit later, we get told that not only nVidia’s dominance or even Christmas sales are endangered by this delay, but its very existence, “. . . [A]ll it takes is one missed product cycle and you’re a goner.” Really? If that were true, there would be no video cards because every one of the contenders have done just that at some point. ATI’s missed a few, how could they still be?

It’s only true in The Eternal Now.

World Warview: The R9700

As you might have noticed, we’ve taken a somewhat different position on the R9700 than most other places. 🙂

The real, deep-down-core reason for this is really a clash between The Eternal Now and The Optimal Time doctrines.

To someone living in The Eternal Now, the R9700 will rule, you should buy it, end of story. When the NV30 comes out, it will rule, you should buy it, end of story.

You can see why resellers like this. Two purchased video cards are better than one.

To someone following The Optimal Time, the R9700 will be better, but will cost too much for most people, especially when it is fairly likely that when NV30 finally shows up, the R9700’s $400 price tag will be cut in half. This is a factor worth considering, especially if you’re not particularly hurting now.

To us, the question has been “By how much are you going to rule if you buy this card, and will that be worth the two hundred dollars extra you’ll pay for the card on August 30 than you’ll likely pay January 30?”

You can see The Optimal Time involves a lot more thought and much less certainty than, “It rules, buy it.”

We’re not against anybody buying the card; we’re against anybody mindlessly buying the card.

If facts change, so will our opinion. If, for instance, we find the R9700 Pro selling for $400, the R9700 selling for $300, and a somewhat slower but not castrated R9500 selling for $200, we would likely look far more favorably towards a quicker purchase of the technology.

The Optimal Time buyer can buy that R9500 card, and still have $200 left. The Eternal Now person has already dished out $400 (and then likely get told by The Eternal Now websites what a great buy the $200 card is; after all, That Was Then, This Is Now).

We believe people should know their options, including those involving cost and time. Those who believe in The Eternal Now effectively don’t.

We have no doubt which is the better general approach. Ignorance is not bliss. Less may be simpler, but it’s not better.

Ed

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