Every new generation of computing has brought us a significant improvement over previous ones. There have been PCs for decades. And they’ve had pluses and minuses.
In the latest generation, the iPad was the pinnaceant and the computer was the tablet. The usual difference between the two was that tablets were cheap, so most people left them at home. But PCs weren’t as cheap, so they were more likely to be carried around.
PCs had been toted around before — in more modern times, they came in a briefcase style — but they were bigger.
The introduction of USB port meant the PC was portable.
And now, just as quickly as the first iPads have proved popular, their successors are drawing notice.
The new Dell XPS 14 Ultrabook was announced this week. It’s very fast, has a great display and uses very little power. But it’s also extremely expensive. At $1,700, it’s going to get attention from power users.
And that’s just for the base configuration. You can upgrade the display and memory and (in certain configurations) the SSD, too.
So are these laptops really improving computers?
Not as much as you might think. Some researchers argue that the chips used in newer PCs are about as good as those in older ones, so they don’t represent much of a leap forward.
Some reviewers argue that enhanced display and RAM gives laptops the jump of getting up to 3,000 times as powerful as the first laptops. But even if that’s true, laptop gains are modest compared to increases in computing power in everything else — in phones, in cars, in productivity and, of course, in the big corporate customers that represent most of Dell’s and HP’s business.
The change is also very noticeable at a general level. Note that, for years, on new laptops, Dell and others had processors that were “only” better than what you could find in an older model.
But that’s changing. Today, the rumor is that Intel is going to introduce a processor with as much capacity as the latest MacBook Pro — an improvement that now seems likely to happen.
Competition from Qualcomm and Nvidia in the smartphone chip business may also be pushing manufacturers toward maximum performance.
The impact of these trends may be greatly exaggerated. Studies suggest that more consumers buy new laptops than upgrade existing ones.
But it’s the best we’ve got.