Monday, December 15, 2008

RAM is cheap.

Upon reading a recent /. article on the collapse of the DRAM market, I was reminded of my first ram upgrade. Since I just accidentally created my Blogger account, and had the window open, why not reflect on it publicly. (I had a gmail account and couldn't find the "post comment" link, so I thought one had to be a Blogger member to comment... you don't.)

Now, we've all heard the stories of our tech lovers of yesteryear that go sort of as follows. "I bought X amount of ram for $HIGH amount of money!". Prices come down, we know that. My 1995 memory upgrade was around $400 for an additional 4MB, 72 pin SIMM for my IBM PS/1 whatever, which had 4MB already. That PC was bought in 1994, so you know.

My father took me to the CompUSA (which closed down just a few months ago) and we showed the guy behind the counter every document and manual that came with our computer - and after flipping through, he saw a random "how to install memory" diagram for which he could determine what kind of RAM we needed. At the time I would have been lost to tell him myself.

That upgrade we made was perhaps middle-of-the-road. Going from the obsolete to "acceptably current" 8MB, but a far cry from a top of the line 16MB machine or so. It didn't just make the system "snappier", but categorically ENABLED the use of software that could not be used before, whatever maybe latest Print Shop Pro or education software we used. Less interesting than how much $400 of memory would go today, is how I don't think you could spend that much if you tried.

So newegg.com tells me that if you are looking for the $$ server memory, that a pair of 4GB DDR2 5300 ECC Fully Buffered modules is $269 for Kingston. 8GB, for a pretty beefy server. I think the top of the line x86 single-system can handle 64GB, but I have not really looked into it. Someone also looks to be selling a $600 option for the same thing, but I think the point is clear. Other than for pretty beefy servers, that sounds like overkill - especially for playing educational titles and the latest Paint Shop Pro. Most desktop users would be hard pressed to find any benefit over 2GB. Empty ram is useless ram, and above 2GB will stay empty for most desktop use. Even top-of-the-line gaming. The pace of progress isn't just accelerating, the rate at which it does so increases itself. (Search for the "Law of accelerating returns.")

The point I take from this is that, when I think to the future, 13 years from now, I may not be laughing about how I paid a whopping $30 for 2GB of DDR2... I could be laughing how I paid for memory at all. Will a "midrange" memory upgrade in 2021 be just $1? Or will it be on-die with some other component in a system? Whereas my $30 memory buy means I can run more programs at the same time (as opposed to completely opening the door to software that could not run at all), will that extra $1 spent on your embedded system of the future open up the same degree of possibility? Will my life-assistant AI do a few more chores for me while I sleep? I do not doubt the increasing ability for us to make use of additional computation power, but I think that there will be a much wider range in system configuration that can have use. And as absurd as it seems in 2008 to picture RAM coming with a chipset or cpu, I guess the same could be said for serial ports, hard drive controllers, and even audio chipsets coming with motherboards a decade ago.

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