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Moore's Law: Friend or Foe to Consumers?

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Only time will tell whether there are more legs in Moore's law, or whether the chip-level innovation that has spurred on the computer industry for the past few decades is about to hit an insurmountable hurdle.

A more pertinent question for consumers and small businesses is whether the cycle of hardware and software upgrades and rapid redundancy that has characterized the desktop computing industry since its birth has served them as well as it could have.

Every two years, it seems, the power of microprocessors doubles and the time it takes to boot a pc and fire up a word processor quadruples.

It seems inevitable that more and more computer power is needed to update now bloated operating systems while ensuring they are backwardly compatible and can run existing applications while fending off new and unforeseen security threats.

But Microsoft executives concede they could write their software to run more efficiently on lower spec hardware, at the price of the software development process taking more time.

Intel, though perhaps least to blame, has like software vendors and PC manufacturers benefited from the cycle of redundancy which currently means the average PC is replaced -- usually in its entirety -- after just four years. It looks like a conspiracy, but because Moore's Law is assumed, there's really no need to conspire.

Some businesses have found solace by switching to thin client computing, but that is less of an option for consumers.

Many of them are about to get caught in the same upgrade trap when it comes to their bandwidth requirements. Today, for many people who don't want to download movies or music online, a 56k connection to the Net may suffice -- as evidenced by the fact that despite the now widespread availability of moderately priced broadband and endless cajoling there are still relatively few takers among households.

But not for long. As broadband becomes more dominant over time, Web designers and online advertisers will increasingly take it for granted that consumers have the added bandwidth and will build more and larger objects into Web pages, probably programmed with increasing inefficiency.

An ISP's homepage in two years time will probably take the same time to download on a 512 Kbps connection that it does today on dial-up and broadband, as currently defined, will be a necessity for all.

Top of mind for many consumers may be how to ensure they avoid buying into a future where their network-connected TVs, smartphones and DVDs -- as well as their PCs -- also have to be replaced every four years. Intel may need to be careful about appearing too Moore-ish if it wants to be welcomed by consumers throughout their homes.

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