Two-bit Column: By a particular measure

Feb 2, 18 • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo Comments

The author. Courtesy photo.

By Justin Agrell

Metrics are salient in plenty of fields, but especially computers. But when you stop and consider metrics, at large — whether that be an idea or a physical object or process — they don’t always add up. When you take the time to see which ones measure up, you’ll find you might be obsessing over the wrong ideas.

Take, for instance, the Megahertz Myth. For a long time, Intel pushed clock-rate (i.e., how many times per second a processor can process an instruction) as the supreme unit of computing power. They had (mostly) convinced their customers that the faster the clock, the better the computer was as a whole. However, in the vast majority of cases, this metric is useless when comparing cutting-edge processors. But explaining the intricacies of how computer processors function proved too complicated to put into advertising, so Intel’s plan worked out for them. Consumers were baffled by the overload of benchmark comparisons explaining how the competition was better and, in the end, most people simply preferred the simpler metric.

Clock-rate, memory, storage capacity, number of ports, weight, and size are the most common measures of a computer. Every processor being sold for general purpose computing now clocks in at billions of hertz and it has been proven that, given efficient enough software, we have surpassed the power required for day-to-day tasks. Memory and hard drive capacity are pretty much there as well. You’d be hard pressed to find a computer that doesn’t come stocked with more than enough capability to get work done. What’s lacking, however, are relevant but easy-to-ignore metrics that are rarely advertised. For instance, wouldn’t you like to know the historical reliability of a model? A good example of reliability came when Steve Job’s era of Apple Computers decided to release a laptop made of milled aluminum. Aluminum Macs are so commonplace that we don’t give them a second thought, but at the time they were groundbreaking. I’ve seen many of the early generation milled aluminum systems last a decade or more. This level of quality raised the bar for an entire industry, yet it’s considered a viable metric.

“Measuring Up,” illustration by 5enses, composite parts public domain.

We’re smothered by poorly chosen metrics across all fields — especially as consumers. We’re sold on cheap monthly financing rates and trending popularity when there are so many other aspects of products that should be considered.

Some arenas are changing, though. My favorite modern example is home ownership. A great new trend to watch is small homes. Consumers are increasingly giving up on homes being measured simply in square footage. Potential homeowners are finding that purchasing a smaller home with a higher build-quality benefits them more in the long run. A higher build quality home lasts longer and the quantity of goods the house can contain is limited, forcing a simpler lifestyle.

As long as we allow ourselves the chance to research products properly and see how they fit into our lives, we can adapt the market to better suit us. You can only blame advertisers so much for doing their jobs. Instead we simply need to be more aware of our potential purchases and take the time to contemplate which unit of measurement best describes how they might benefit us. If we keep opting for the cheapest computers, why would the industry ever make them better? On the other hand, if we continue to spend exorbitant amounts on high-end systems based solely on brand, it can hurt us as well.

The only solution is to find the correct metric. This allows us, as consumers, to make the best, most informed purchase and reward the fairest seller.


Justin Agrell has been a certified IT technician since 2005. He loves Linux, adventure motorcycling, and computer gaming. To get in touch, just email him at Justin@U4E.US.

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