Drivers and hardware- then vs. now (WAS Re: New to the list)

Scott Quinn compoobah at
Thu Aug 3 14:43:53 CDT 2006

> I haven't even looked at Vista requirements yet--and probably won't until
>Vista's released because MS is making the same claim "You can use XP
>drivers on Vista".

Haven't checked driver requirements (don't write Windows drivers), but looked at base requirements.
You can buy a mid-range PC now that, with upgraded memory, will be able to run the "base" version of Vista.
High end P.C.s that you buy now might be able to run the whole thing.
512 MB ram for a minimum, 1GB recommended (AARGH - I didn't get any further)
There's something really messed up when a midrange PC won't run software to be released in 6 months (of course,
based on past performance, it won't be).

>These days they don't get given that, and everyone has to have the 
>complexity whether they actually want/need it or not...

O.K.- intellectual exercise: I'm a PC hardware maker. It costs me $N to make a board. nVidia chips from 2 years ago cost $G,
a basic 2-d "accelerated" controller costs a bit less, but doesn't require the fancy assembly hardware (not that
that matters much, I probably contract out). Buyers will probably say: "but that one only has 8MB and doesn't to 3-D, why isn't it 1/2 or 1/4 of
the price?" and buy the fancy one, because it's "only $10 more" (probably less in reality) and does "so much more" even though (a) they don't need it and (b)
the buggy drivers and heat output make it less useable.  I sell one framebuffer each to the 120 people who (a) know what's up (b) use PCs
and (c) don't just get integrated Intel "Extreme"(SGI should have sued them over that one...) graphics because they work O.K. and you don't have to deal with slipping AGP cards.

>Printers are a case in point too - a parallel port does that job just fine, 
>yet it's hard to find a machine that doesn't have more complicated USB 
>interfaces on it, and a printer's now expected to use that.

It's likely that implementing parallel is now more expensive. Almost everything in USB is in the software driver. If users complain, the companies can promise to
"fix it in the next release" which may or may not happen... If it's in firmware, then people will demand that the company fix it under warranty.
The older computers that keep getting brought up had long lifetimes. The Mac IIci was introduced in 1989 and sold through 1993 (chose this since it was one model,
one company). Companies spent more time designing their machines because they didn't have the "reference implementations" and standard fully-integrated parts suppliers
that we have now. Things "just worked" because they were designed together and spent time together, and this showed in firmware and software. You couldn't just flash your PROM, so
they had to get things right or it got very expensive very fast. Things were much more expensive to buy, then, too (keep in mind).
Nobody spends much time on consumer drivers because you can always make empty promises, and consumers no longer expect things to work.
Sad state of affairs (especially when those "fancy 3-d graphics" that are all you can get now come with terrible drivers for anything but Windows (and maybe Mac), and the companies
refuse to let anyone else write decent drivers because of "trade secrets" (for Linux it has to be in source, too many variables between kernel, libc, X-server...)

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