Show me the horsepower!
By now, anyone who follows tech news even casually knows a massive 12,000 workforce reduction is taking place at Intel because people use their smartphones more than ever and can extend the life of their other devices as a result. Even if you have the money to upgrade all of your devices each year, it is a monumental pain in the rear. This means in order to get people to upgrade more quickly, a few things would have to happen.
Either operating systems would have to get so much more demanding and desirable that we’d all have to upgrade constantly or consumers would crave newer computers because of the greater performance level.
There was a point in time when Microsoft routinely wrote ever-more-bloated operating system code and forced the world to upgrade hardware every few years. This was back in the day with Microsoft operating systems were really getting better with each iteration. Yes, there was a time we couldn’t imagine not having the latest operating system on our desks.
Microsoft no longer has the ability to get customers to desire the latest operating system the way they did pre-Vista which as Donald Trump might say was a “complete disaster.” Moreover, Macs, iPads, larger smartphones and Chromebooks are eroding marketshare of PCs so Microsoft can’t afford to force any hardware changes on consumers. They no longer have the dominant OS position they once had. It’s also worth pointing out that today’s desktop OS is quite robust and the improvements are becoming ever-more incremental.
This leaves us with the marketing angle. People buy sports cars because they have better performance than ordinary cars. What gets the consumer to upgrade the car quite often is the marketing of faster 0-60 times, better time around the track, etc. Ditto for electric cars where people look for cars which have greater and greater range. Personally, I’d like one which goes 400 miles per charge.
David Canoy over at CNET explains brilliantly why Intel has done itself no favors with its chip naming conventions. You literally need to be an expert to know which chip does what – is better than which other chip, etc. Their branding strategy is scattered. Moreover, the code names have leaked out… Broadwell, Haswell, etc. Unless I look them up, I can’t remember which is better for battery life or for graphics tasks, etc. I am sure other than processor geeks, no one can.
This gets us to the processor designations of Core i3, i5 and i7. The company copied BMW and others with these “names” – the 3 series, 5 series and 7 series to be specific. But where they went off-track (pun intended) was not understanding that a new car looks new and becomes desirable as a result. I have no desire for a new Core i5 if no one markets the benefits to me.
An important note that Intel needs to realize is computers don’t have that new processor smell.
About a year ago I ordered a new computer with an SSD because I noticed how much faster my Core i5 Surface Pro 3 was than my Core i7 PC with a regular hard disk. All of a sudden, my emails came in blazingly fast and I was much more productive. I must save 20 minutes a day with this very small change.
Yes, we are moving to a cloud-oriented world but PC speed still matters and upgrading computers leads to enhanced productivity. Moreover, today, more than ever, consumers drive spending in corporate IT. Apple proves this to us repeatedly.
What if Intel actually named the processors in a way that generated replacement desire? Wouldn’t they boost demand? Sure they would. This coupled with a smart marketing program is really all they need to do to generate at least a few more percentage points of growth.
This gets us to AMD… Due to a lawsuit from this competitor, Intel was pushed to change the way it named processors 286, 386, 486, etc. to Pentium, etc. There was a time when I knew a computer with a 486 was faster than a 386. Nowadays, there are too many numbers to keep track of. It’s confusing. A Core I5 could be faster than an i7 depending on certain factors such as the string of numbers and letters which follow. In response, most consumers just say, its good enough and don’t bother getting a new PC.
It’s like going to a restaurant and asking for wine and hearing the waiter ask, well would you like the 2011 Bordeaux from France or the 2014 Chardonnay from Napa? Or how about the 25 page wine list? Your response? I don’t know? Just give me the house wine.
It’s probably a stretch to say AMD mortally wounded Intel but it does show that over the last 25 years, Intel has changed its processor naming strategy as a result of a judge saying you can’t trademark numbers. And since that point, many people have lost the ability to quickly know how much faster a new computer would be.
In short, we need a simple reference number like horsepower or torque to judge these devices more efficiently. It may not be perfect. It may not be suitable to all programs but it would certainly be better than what we have now.
If we have to extend this to a few more numbers, that would work as well. To further the car analogy, the skidpad number lets me compare handling, the 0-60 time and 1/4 mile times help be gauge absolute performance and the power/weight ratio helps me determine the theoretically fastest car. OK, throw in top speed for the car nuts.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post and please share it if you have. In the meantime, I’m off to the computer store to buy a new Intel Core i5-4210U-powered computer… Whatever that means.
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