The more things change...

audre · April 5, 2002 11:09 pm

It's fascinating to me the evolution in the tools of our trade, and how we use them... And sometimes how little we appreciate them, and notice the changes they've gone through. Think about it... how many times have you heard someone with a brand new 1.5ghz P4 with a gazillion megs of ramcomplain that it wasn't fast enough? Heh. Take a trip through the gallery sometime, and take a hard analytical look at the things that the best are doing these days. Cool stuff huh? Then hit "End" [or last or whatever it is... ] and go to the back of the gallery and work forward a bit. Look for the same names, and for diferent ones - people who were doing the best stuff 4+ years ago... And then grab your browser and do a meta search on computer graphics and do a different kind of time travel. Look back through the early 90's and mid 80's to what was being done. And what it was being done on. We used to sit around and talk about this stuff when I was in computer and graphics school - the "wouldn't it just be cool if" discussions. And the types of things that were our wildest fantasies then, are commonplace now - Quake III and realtime 3D gaming. Animation capabilities and CG that will let you plug a computer generated lion into a movie - and not have audiences be able to tell the difference. Or a dinosaur. Or to do a real looking 3D perspective model in soemthing that didn't involve building a table top diorama... In the mid/late 80's, the type of stuff we're doing was done in major studios, not on desktops. And some of it wasn't done as well. And they didn't have the hardware capabilities we do now. Nor the software... Heh. When I got into computers in '83 or so, my first "serious" machine was a Tandy Colorcomp with a whopping 64k of ram. And a 10 megabyte harddrive... and that was a realtive "poweruser" system. I used it for serious stuff, like BBS's and online, textbased gaming... and writing. Spreadsheets too - and basic programming. Nothing Visual about it - BASIC programming. ;] I later moved on from there to bigger and better systems... 286's, 486DX-100's, and finally my first system capable of serious graphics work: A pentium 90 with 64megs of ram. Coolness - it'd run Bryce 2, Poser 2, and Photoshop 4. Still does as a matter of fact. Now... I have five systems arrayed around me. Not counting my decrepit Prostar laptop... My first worksation is still operating - a Tyan based 450, and it still does the bulk of my serious work. My dual 600 worksation... that's the pampered one. It does renders and scene building once they get to the point where they choke the 450. And then there's my venerable dual 233 that still handles all my serious photoshop work. Don't snicker - that thing regularly digests 200+ mb/256 layer photoshop files without a hitch. And a 533 [gaming], and then there's the internet system I type my drivel on. ;] Over two gigs of computing power... if it were all in one box. hey - I like clutter. Keeps my life simpler. ;] [Long pause for thought... never mind] You couldn't BUY that kind of computing power in '83. Not unless you had the budget of a major movie studio... and then it'd be in a mainframe by big Blue, Hewlett-Packard, or Cray. And even then it wouldn't have the power or capacity that's sitting on most of our desktops - and it'd take up a sizeable chunk of real estate to do it. Run a spreadsheet REAL fast though. ;] Oh... forgot one. There's my "toy": my 600 DEC-Alpha. That one doesn't count really. It's a hardware test bed, and a benchmarking baseline for when I set up workstations. It's also my OS2 rig for when I play at coding. [OS on a PS2 - half an operating system for half a computer *snicker*] Not slow - a 600 Dec will outclock a lot of 900 to 1ghz machines. Just not a lot of the type of software I like to play with written for it.... And I'm writing the illustrated history of the internet on it. BE afraid, be *very* afraid. You're probably in it. Along with all 600 other members of this site... and all of their 80,000 nicknames... [Long pause.... *snicker*] I see things in the galleries daily that blow me away. And it's done on hardware that didn't exist when I started getting into this stuff. The pace at which that hardware and the software capabilities it fosters have exploded is breathtaking.... Trust me - I am NOT complaining or longing for the goude olde days or any suchlike crapola. I'd rather be doing this now than then. I have cooler toys to play with now. And my cat likes playing his 3D space shooters. ;] But if I have noticed anything that coming from where I did has given me, it's a marked tendency to eek out the last bit of efficiency from the capabilities of what I have, and finding new ways to maximise them, rather than longing for something just a bot more bleeding edge... just for the sake of having it. When I get to where I can choke my current rig into an 8 week, 600 mb render, I'll worry about it. ;] In the meantime... I'm going to continue wandering the galleries and letting my jaw drop at the things that people are doing that maximise what we have now. And play the "wouldn't it just be cool if" games in my head on what 10 years down the line may bring. It gives me a sense of appreciation. I know what it's like to just dream about this stuff. Seeing it and doing it is icing on the cake. Laterz... Sherman Barnes [Ironbear at Renderosity] Click here to see archives of Ironbear's Column

Article Comments

Mr Codini ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 06 April 2002

I was cleaning up my office and found a receipt for a 32 mgs ram chip from 1996....the price? $582.00

jmahoney ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 07 April 2002

When I started, we got 84k on an IBM 360 partition, AND WE LIKED IT!...:) Really, now I have 6 times the processing power on my desk than a room full of the big iron I started on. Back then the desktop was viewed as a solution looking for a problem. Now distributed systems and email are mission critical applications. Before we could take 24 months to write a mainframe product, because the environment would still be the same. You can't do that now in a distributed system, since 24 months means EVERYTHING has changed! I'm not playing the "old timers" game, I know where your comming from. It's been exciting watching this grow from PONG to Tomb Raiders, from 3D images that could only be done on a Cray to some of the absolutly stunning art displayed in these galleries. And from spreadsheet programs to some amazing graphics software that allow someone like me, with no artistic talent, to create something that reflects how I really feel, and get some really good feedback. I can look at this now as the greatest personal growth tool I've ever thought possible, not a solution looking for a problem!

Slynky ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 09 April 2002

im the yougin' around here. My first box was a 286 SX-16 with, at first, 2 megs of ram. Upgraded to a 386 SX-40 or something with I think 4 megs of ram, and then moved up to a 486 DX-100 with, -HOLY SHIT-, 8 megs of ram. It ran wolfenstein man! And I really will never forget my dual speed cd rom (80$CAN back then), and my VGA card that let me play DOOM 2. Even had the old epson ink tape printer. God, those were (definitely not) the days... -sigh-

Allen9 ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 09 April 2002

Just another little note of history. Waaaaaaay back, I mean really waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in the 1960's (yep dodging T-rex's the whole time), my mom was doing program on the then 'state-of-the-art' IBM 1401. The damn thing had a huge, gigantic, absolutely grandiose 10K of RAM, and basically just sorted punch-cards. (Are any of the rest of you ancient enough to actually remember punch cards). She started as a keypunch operator and then went away for a whole summer to learn how to program the thing. Now I sit here, currently quite behind the times as I'm stuck with an old P-II 400 w/ 256M Ram and dreaming about maybe next year being able to upgrade. Nevertheless, I'm happy to have the tools I've got, and they enable me to do things I'd never have dreamed of a decade ago. The mind positively boggles when contemplating where computing power will be a decade from now. Cowabunga!

Ironbear ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 09 April 2002

PIZZA! ;] Nope. This is definatly a case where the "goude olde days" are not the best. The nice time to play with hardware is NOW. And the near future will be cooler. Of course... the advantage of learning on the older stuff is that you're used to figuring out tricks to maximise the capabilities of what you have, Allen. When you actually get your hands on the bleeding edge, your abilities explode as you start figuring out ways to choke a 2.6ghz system with 4gb of Ram down to a rendering standstill... ;]

CptPlanet ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 11 July 2002

The best time to upgrade is always 4 months after you do. I guess one of the most important skills a PC shopper can have is the inability to regret one's purchase. Yeah, I was working on a 350Mhz PII with 192MB of RAM. I remember how stoked I was about running Half-Life in software mode (this was before I borrowed my friends dual Voodoo 2 SLI's because I didn't have an AGP slot, because only "elite" gamers had those). This Christmas I upgraded to a 1.5Ghz Athlon XP (which I have to run at around 1.3 due to heating concerns) with 768MB of RAM, and sure enough, 7 months later, I'm already starting to feel the pinch when rendering. Do I regret my purchase? Hell no. Would I upgrade? Only if it was free or I was made out of money. C'est la vive. The mantra of the modern PC shopper.

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