Hardware history lessons

In researching an upcoming post, I ran across this piece I wrote for TechRepublic in May 2000. Eight years ago this week:

So I understand exactly how the TechRepublic member who inspired this week’s Microsoft Challenge feels. He’s ready to ditch his 6-GB IDE drive and move up to a screaming 18-GB SCSI drive. But he’s dreading the hassle of reinstalling Windows 2000 and all his software and customizations. What’s the best way to make the move?

Yow! I remember when 18GB was a pretty big drive, but I had forgotten that those were still in widespread use only a year before Windows XP launched. Today, I can get a flash drive for my digital camera that’s bigger than that. I’ve noticed that the cost of a 500GB drive has dropped below $100 pretty consistently, with terabyte drives consistently below $300.

When people talk about the differences in resource usage between Windows XP and Windows Vista, it helps to remember that XP was designed to work in environments where a 30-40GB hard drive and 128MB of RAM was a standard configuration. In 8 years, those numbers have increased by an order of magnitude at least.

15 thoughts on “Hardware history lessons

  1. Ed, I think that people do realize that. The thing is that the hardware requirements in Vista seem arbitrary as it is unclear what you gain from them. It’s almost as if it was designed to consume more resources just to drive HW sales. Look, I love Vista, but I can still realize that it has tons of problems. For example, my hard drives seem to work like crazy for no apparent reason, which is very annoying because of the noise they make. I’m unsure whether it’s due the the file indexing, or the background defrag process, or what. I don’t like that and I don’t know how to fix it. And I’m not interested into downloading sysinternals just to figure that out.

  2. Where does it say that a newer version of a product has to consume more resources and perform worse or about the same as the predecessor? Firefox seems to be a great example of not doing that. Firefox 3 is substantially faster, consumes less memory than Firefox 2 and has substantial feature improvements over the older version. Vista on the other hand is more like going from Firefox 3 to Firefox 2 performance/resource usage wise while gaining features. Surely MS could have spent a bit more of the $6 billion that they spent on Vista to optimize it for all kinds of hardware? But I guess we’ll have to wait for Windows 7 for that.

  3. Heh heh heh … SCSI. I remember a lot od people telling me how that was the future of desktop hard drives. And I remember how peripherals like scanners shipped with SCSI add-on cards too …

    Good times!

  4. You know, I sat through a keynote last week given by the CEO of EMC Joseph M. Tucci. The one big take away from it was that according to IDC as I recall, the amount of information in the ‘world’ goes up by about 60% every year. That’s not all USEFUL information, but when Google tells you that they are getting 10 hours of YouTube video like every 15 minutes, it does say something about growth. heh.

    Apparently the same report says they they see no end in site to that trend, and the trend line they used in the report started in the mid-90’s, so it pre-dated the bubble (or at least took it into account).

    As for Vista, frankly I don’t find it any more demanding than OS X or Mac OS has ever been. In the Mac OS 5-9 days, everybody used to complain about how much memory the OS ate up, and how obscenely expensive RAM was for them in those days.

    I think most of the code growth in modern OS’s is frankly partly due to modularity growth (modularity can often be the enemy of tightly written, small programs) and the proliferation of high-level and interpreted coding capabilities. We haven’t gotten better, we’ve just gotten lazier. ; )

  5. Techrepublic used to be a great resource! It was the first site geared to IT Pros that I ever used. In it’s early years it set the bar high for what I expect out of a website. There are few that deliver what it did. Sadly, it went downhill fast after it was purchased.

  6. Thanks Ed. I did try that and I know the process that is responsible for the disk usage is svchost.exe. Now what? I searched online and it seems this process is used to launch processes. If I want to know who launches a particular instance of svchost.exe, it seems that I need to used sysinternals.

  7. I still have several servers running 15K RPM 18 GB SCSI drives. A Windows 2003 server acting as a domain controller doesn’t need a lot of space and they are still much faster than current hard drives. The flip side is I am right this moment installing XP SP3 integrated on a P3 with 256 MB and 8 GB IDE. It is going to be a machine simply to watch video feed from security cameras and it works quite well with a little bit newer video card (Radeon with 128 MB).

  8. Oh and one more thing to Adrian’s comment. I have run SCSI and now SAS in my desktop since the mid-90’s. First 10K RPM Cheetah’s and now 15K RPM ones. I love the boot speed and general responsiveness compared to IDE / SATA.

  9. Diego, Svchost is a process that groups multiple services together. To see which services are being used there, open the Processes tab in Task Manager, right-click the Svchost instance, and click Go To Service(s). That will take you to the Services tab with the specific services highlighted in light blue. If you then click the PID heading, you can sort by PID and see all those services in a single group.

    I have a guess, but I’ll wait until you report back.

  10. Diego, I suspect the chatter you’re seeing is one of three things:

    1) the defrag operation
    2) the daily System Restore backup point
    3) the indexer.

    The first and second you can set to happen at a time when the PC is on but when you’re not actually at the PC. I’ve done this: my system wakes itself from sleep at 8AM and does all the daily maintenance at that time, and then by the time I’m actually at the console it’s all finished.

    The indexer is normally set not to chatter too much, but if you have iTunes or another program that creates a big XML file in your user data directory, then it might be trying to reindex that periodically (I think Ed mentioned this particular fillip before).

    If you want to know how to deal with any of these, I’m sure we can walk you through it. Bottom line: A PC with Vista and plenty of memory, multiple cores, etc., should not be slow.

  11. Ed, that’s a great tip. Initially I didn’t see the svchost.exe among the processes, but then I clicked on “show processes for all users” and there they were.

    From Serdar’s comments, I thought that maybe it was the indexing system getting all messed up every time I compile one of my large C++ projects. So I just excluded my programming folders from the indexing locations. We’ll see what happens.

    I haven’t seen the disk working like crazy so far, but I’ll check the svchosts.exe if that happens again. I’m wondering whether the shadow copy features can also be a factor when compiling.

    Just to clarify. My machine never works slowly. The issues is that the HD works too much and makes noise when I need a quite time to think. It also happens sometimes after I boot the computer. So, indexing, shadow copies, or whatever, may be okay when I’m not around, but not if I’m in front of the computer. I realize this is a personal choice, though.

    I’ll report back of I find something new about this.

  12. That is pretty amazing. In 2000 I was working on a Toshiba Satelite with 1GB of memory.

  13. I have news to share. I found the cause of the crazy disk usage: superfetch and windows media player network sharing. I disabled both services and things are normal now.

    Superfecth may be a good idea but it doesn’t work well for me. I noticed it was prefecthing all my programing files, which is a waste of time, and makes my laptop really hot.

    WMP network sharing is also something that I don’t need and I found that for some reason it was reading all my music files every time I boot the computer. Isn’t that crazy?

  14. I generally have the WMP network sharing disabled by default as well. As for superfetch, I find it works better if I leave it on.

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