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Something about speed

By Jean-Claude Elias - Dec 01,2016 - Last updated at Dec 01,2016

Sometimes you cannot but stop and wonder why we keep asking for faster technology, especially computer and Internet technology. Is it just greed or is there a real need for constantly more? 

For once the usual comparison between cars and computers is not relevant. Indeed, you can rightly question the usefulness of cars that can clock 250 kilometres per hour (kph) or more when the maximum speed limit is 110kph in the best (or worst….) case on all roads in the country, including on the highways. But computers, smartphones and networks are a totally different story — why should there be any limit to their speed?

Most devices are significantly faster than they were only five or six years ago. For several decades the rate of the speed increase was observed according to what is known in the computer world as Moore’s Law. It says that speed would double every two years. It remained true until about last year when Intel, the leading maker of processors, found that the rate was now actually decreasing, albeit slowly.

Today, and mainly because of our steadily growing dependence on networks, on the Internet in particular, we have to make a clear distinction between the speed of the different parts of the devices: the processors, the hard disks, the USB interface, the graphic controller, and last but not least the Internet, be it wired or wireless — to keep all this down to a simple list.

An example to illustrate the reasoning. You can easily store 10,000 high resolution pictures on the micro-SD memory card of a smartphone if you like, provided you buy and install a 64GB such card, or one with a larger capacity. But when you go to the Gallery application to browse all these photos or to search for a specific one, the phone will respond slowly and will take a few seconds to react and to display the collection’s thumbprints, or to locate the photo you are searching for.

This is because the storage part is up to the job but the processor and the graphics controller are a little behind in this very case. Besides, smartphones, even the most expensive models, were not designed to store, display and handle 10,000 photos in the first place.

Perhaps digital storage equipment, disks and memory modules of all kinds, are the only elements which speed can be considered as good enough to satisfy the typical consumer’s current computing needs. For all the others, there is no such thing as fast enough.

The necessity is driven by three essential aspects of technology: the growing use and processing of high resolution multimedia contents, the reliance on networks, including the Internet, and the need to make copies of huge amounts of digital contents in as little time as possible, whether to keep security backup sets or to exchange such contents with other parties.

Today, the USB3.0 interface is very convenient to connect all types of external disks to computers and is fast enough for most tasks. When data gets really big, however, even USB3.0 is not fast enough. There has been question of a USB3.1 standard for more than a year now, but we have yet to see a machine fitted with it. USB3.1 is supposed to be 30 to 90 per cent faster than USB3.0. Wait and see.

Try to render a 30-minute video after having edited it, using for example Sony’s excellent Vegas video editing software. Even with the best hardware and a lot of memory the job will take at least 15 minutes to complete. This may not be the end of the world for most of us, but for people who work every day on video editing they would love to see it done in a minute or two, or even in a second, in a dream world; why not after all?

As for the Internet, and despite all improvements in the infrastructure and the service in the last couple of years, we generally feel that our needs are growing faster than the progress that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are making, except in rare cases. Typically, the consumer would find the download speed more or less satisfactory in most cases, whereas the upload speed remains an issue. Some ISPs in Jordan, like Damamax and Vtel, among others, are now proposing decent upload speeds of 10 or 20 gigabits.

 

Video calls with smartphones have dramatically changed the way we communicate. Most of the time, unfortunately, such calls made using Viber, Whatsapp, Skype, or similar networks still come with less-than-perfect image. By moments the video becomes jerky or pixelated. Still, the way things are moving forward, we can hopefully expect high definition video calls in as few as two or three years.

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