Max Specs and Affordable Computing

Hey, you! Yes, you. I'd like to chat about phones and computers without getting way too... geeky about all of it. Your phone is a very powerful computer, so I'm going to only refer to computers from here on out, just remember I'm also talking about your phone.

The premise is that you've been getting ripped off by nerds for years and I think that's wrong. You probably knew this already, but just haven't had the right words to describe it. I'm happy to help, if you'll continue reading.

The one word we'll be talking a lot about are specifications (specs) of computers. These determine how powerful a computer is. Specs typically increase together over time so we'll focus on only a single spec for our comparisons today: memory.

If your computer is running slow, it's probably because the apps on your computer are using too much memory. The folks at Apple or Microsoft will tell you that you need a new computer. Your token nerd friend will say you just need more memory.

I'm here to say you deserve better software.

The Cray-1 was the gold standard of supercomputers in 1975 selling for 7.9 million USD, with inflation that's ~33 million USD in 2019. In 2020, the most affordable entry level computer is a Raspberry Pi for 35 USD. The top of the line Raspberry Pi sells for 75 USD. A comparable Apple product would be the cheapest Macbook Air for 999 USD.

Okay, so for a baseline, the Cray-1 had about 8 Megabytes of memory. The 75 USD Raspberry Pi and the 999 USD Macbook Air both have 8 Gigabytes of memory. There are 1024 Megas to 1 Giga when it comes to computer specs. So these newer computers have about 1,000 times more memory.

I promised not to get too geeky, but I had to throw those numbers out there. I know they're essentially meaningless without context. Roughly, as memory increases so does computer performance.

Over the last 45 years, supercomputers decreased in size and price, therefore becoming more practical and affordable for consumers. Performance also increased over 1,000 times! The question I have though, did people change what they're doing on computers?

I don't think so. To me, there are two types of computer users: consumers and creators.

A consumer listens to music, watches movies, sends emails, composes documents, tracks their finances.

A creator composes music, edits movies, illustrates book covers, writes software.

We've been doing the same things for decades and we're currently at a point now where our hardware is capable of doing consumer-grade computing instantaneously. But the software is holding us back.

Okay, so if hardware itself is good enough and has been good enough, what's the difference between a Raspberry Pi and a Macbook Air, besides 900 USD?

For starters, you probably don't know anyone using a Raspberry Pi for their computer. But everyone you know is using an Apple, Microsoft, or Google product. It's easier to switch to something when you've got a tribe to share knowledge with. Being able to phone a friend is the simplest way to get computer help, since you're all speaking the same language.

The Raspberry Pi also isn't a laptop, it's a computer that fits in the palm of your hand, so you'll still need a monitor, keyboard, and a mouse to plug it into. So the Macbook Air is a fully packaged product, where the Raspberry Pi is a little more DIY. The 200 USD Pinebook Pro is a fully fledged alternative, with less power than a Macbook Air.

Finally, Apple has an entire ecosystem of software in their App store. It's really easy to download a program and be running in a few minutes. You can quickly install things on a Raspberry Pi, but there is a steeper learning curve.

I'm not sure it's super obvious, but the key ingredient to using a more affordable computer is time. By getting good with your computer, you will save time in the long run. For me, I get frustrated with slow software, constant updates, and the limited selection in app stores.

For an example on how improving your personal computing skills could improve your life, I want you to think about your keyboard. How do you type?

There's two common ways. You're either using your pointer fingers and striking each key like a vulture. Or you're using all your fingers like a Caffeinated Octopus.

To go from vulture to octopus took time and practice, but now you're set for life. You've mastered the interaction of interfacing with a common machine in the most mechanical way.

Having more control over your hardware and software is a learnable skill, like typing. Yes, it takes time, but will ultimately save you time and money in the long run.

The best part is some new update won't make your entire computer obsolete forcing you to buy a new one, because now you hold the power.

So instead of looking for a computer that has the minimum specs to run the software you want, that you instead look for software that falls under your max specs. I propose that 8 Gigabytes of memory is more than enough for your maximum specifications, if you're an average consumer.

If you choose the right hardware and the right software, I believe you can not need to buy another computer for the next decade.