Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Dream Machine, 2005

Every year, Maximum PC magazine puts together its "Dream Machine". It's the most powerful PC that you can build with off-the-shelf components. This year's machine has quite impressive specs, including:Over a billion transistors in all. The machine costs almost $13,000 when you include the case, power supply, dual monitors and speakers.

You read the article and you think, "My God, this is an insane amount of computing power and disk space! Who could possibly need such a machine?!" But then you look back at the first Dream Machine that they built in 1996. That machine had:They didn't even have a "3D graphics card" in it, because 3D graphics cards didn't exist yet.

At the time, just 9 years ago, that was an insanely expensive ass-kicking machine. Today this 9-year-old Dream Machine is so pathetic that it would be unusable. 32 MB of RAM??? You could not even launch the OS in that.

Even coming up to the year 2000 Dream Machine, you find:That cost $12,000. $12,000! Today a $500 desktop PC at Best Buy beats that.

So... Between 1996 and 2005 -- just 9 years -- disk space increased by a factor of 1,000. RAM increased by a factor of 250. CPU clock speed incleased by a factor of 11, there are 4 cores instead of 1 and the number of transistors went up by a factor of 150. And now we have incredibly powerful graphics cards holding 300 million transistors -- a technology that did not even exist 9 years ago in the normal PC marketplace.

Project out 10 years from now, to 2015. It is quite likely that the $13,000 "Dream Machine" of 2005 will seem pathetic and unusable. You won't even be able to buy a machine like this because it is so pathetic. The 2015 Dream Machine will have:Who knows what the graphics cards in 2015 will be doing.

Will the machine in 2015 contain a vision processing card??? That is the huge question I have. 3D graphics accelerator cards like we see today did not even exist in 1996 as far as the Dream Machine was concerned. Will we see vision processing cards arise from nothing and explode in power like that? Or will it take ten years more?

What will the robots in 2015 be able to do?

And what will the Dream Machines in 2025 look like? I don't think we can imagine it.

See Robotic Nation and Robots in 2015 for a discussion.

It is hard to imagine 2 exabytes of disk space in 2025, yes. 10 trillion transistors is also difficult to comprehend. The brain only has 100 billion neurons.
Each year, they come out with faster and better computers that simply blow my mind with their speed! I remember in 1996 when our family used to gather around our AST computer, shopping on the LL Bean website on our dial-up connection and then we thought that was blazing fast! Oh, times have changed.
"3D graphics accelerator cards like we see today did not even exist in 1996 as far as the Dream Machine was concerned."

Actually, extremely powerful graphics resources existed (for an extremely high price). Way back in the early 90s, I had access to a very large investment in hardware. I was trying to make guesses similar to your own regarding what we would see and for what price.

At a very high Moore's Law level of approximation, I think we can reasonably predict that anything costing $100,000 today will be a prosumer/consumer product ten years from now. Likewise, sizes seem to drop over ten years from "file cabinet / minifridge" to the size of a PCIE card.
They had graphics cards, just not 3D accelerators.

The dramatic hard drive storage increases in the late 90's were the result of IBM research making it to market. The data from that time period is skewed and extrapolating from it will give you over-estimates of future storage. From what I understand there are not any results in the pipeline that will allow this rapid growth to continue. Sure, there will be incremental improvements as manufacturers refine existing methods, but until there is another fundamental breakthrough (and that is very difficult to predict) hard-drive sizes are going to be relatively stable. It is likely that the next breakthrough will move us away from spinning magnetic disks.
There is at least one more trick up the sleeve of HDD manufacturers: Perpendicular recording. See this article:

"Perpendicular recording increases disk capacity by aligning the millions of magnetic domains at 90° to the disk's surface rather than parallel to it.

Almost all hard drive manufacturers are working on perpendicular product, regarded as the next stage in the evolution of the HDD. Toshiba, Seagate and Hitachi have all announced perpendicular drives, but as yet none have shipped product."
Intel announced quite some time ago that they will not pursue speed as a driver anymore. Current desing is with 90nm, possibly because when you go into 65nm or below, you get all kinds of other effects. "Quantum Live" would be a nice marketing name ;-)

TSMC by the way also stated something like that, about a year ago.
2005 maximum PC would make noise like Jet machine when it is running.

I think in 2015 the computing machine would have shape like refrigerator with equivalent cooling, and would lie somewhere in attic where noise does not matter.

All the human interface devices would be wireless, drawing computing power from the local box, and such local boxes would be connected into world wide grid (probably selling/donating/borrowing computing horsepower to grid in idle modes).

This box, would contain your music collection, DVD collection, connected to some VOD service, your kids homework, your officework, your wife's recipes, all you emails, phone conversations, all video phone conversations, all photos, everything that can be digitized, and would have virtual presence in your life but physically the box would be out there.

This box will have its own private super google search engines ( current desktop searches are primitive in comparision ) which would provide seamless access to your content at tip of the finger, and play it on your choosen output devices.

Btw, this is how the mainframes where connected some 30 years ago, with a hidden hub and dumb terminals ... future is a reflection of past !

Bhavesh, I hope we are still not using DVDs in 2015. They are already becoming limited in what they can hold! :-)
Mr. Brain hasn't taken into consideration the Peak Oil scenario. By 2015 the computer industry would have started to collapse because most of the components are made using petrochemicals as a base. The world oil shortage will be in full swing by then.
I would call this baby a dream machine. Dream set to be exact :)
It is called "Moore's Law". Moore stated that the number of transistors will increase 2X every year. It has shown that this happens every 18 months. If there are approx 233 million transistors right now per cpu, there will be approx 238 billion transistors per chip. Being that nobody can see into the future, computer architecture is most likely going to take a dramatic step and change its direction completely. Who knows? Not I.
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