Performance No Longer King

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Today, hardware performance is a given. It’s features, pricing and branding that are beginning to decide purchase behavior

This is something about which I have written before. But as time passes, it is becoming more and more evident. Tech hardware is headed the commodity way.

There was a time when you could make out the differences in performances between any piece of hardware and any other piece of hardware by just looking at the specs. And these differences made a substantial difference to your computing experience.

Let me explain with a couple of examples. Take the case of a graphics card running a game scene. You would measure its performance in fps (frames per second). The standard rule is that the more the fps the card is capable of providing, the smoother the game will run for you. So, a card that provided, say 19 fps was better than the one that provided 15 fps.

Today’s graphics cards provide frame rates of about 60 fps and above. Great performance? Better than 56 fps? Obviously. 

But there are two problems here. The first one is that long back your eyes gave up making out the difference. This is because they are capable of making out the difference only up to about 30 fps. So, if you are checking out two cards, one providing 30 fps and the other providing 60 fps, your eye cannot make out any difference between the two!

The second problem is an old law of economics. The law of diminishing returns is applicable to hardware performance as well. As performance improves, the same incremental difference in raw numbers will give you less and less of perceived improvement in performance. 

Take the case of CPUs. In the days of 100 MHz CPUs, a 200 MHZ CPU meant an improvement of 100 percent (almost). But in these days of gigahertz CPUs, the same 100 MHZ is just a paltry seven or eight percent—something definitely not worth fighting for. 

Increasingly we are seeing this happen in tests at PCQ Labs. Our benchmarks are able to make out the difference in performance between two systems. But once we question whether the difference is significant enough in the real world, the answer in most cases is turning out to be in the negative. 

What all this has resulted in is that your choice between one product and the next is no longer going to be based on performance alone. In fact, it would be based on everything else but performance. Performance would be a given.

Buying computer hardware is fast becoming similar to buying TV sets. You no longer look for the number of channels or S-band support when you want to buy a TV. They are a given. 

Vendors have already shifted gears away from claiming superior performance to claiming superior or even quaint features as their unique selling points. 

So, when you go out to buy that PC or that server, you are more likely to be met with a barrage of details about brands, colors anddesigns than with information about performance.

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