Article: Good Enough

by on August 12, 2015

As someone whose day job involves working with a bunch of so-called "power users" of Macs and Windows machines, it’s really easy for us to fall into the trap of wanting the highest-level configuration of any particular piece of hardware because we know what we’re doing. I’ve always taken a more modest approach, mostly to be mindful of budgets, but I’m recently noticing this in a very apparent way with Windows 10 and the most recent versions of Mac OS X.

It’s been no secret that Apple did some amazing things with OS X Mavericks and the Compressed Memory feature—it’s not a doubling of RAM per se, but certain tasks are handled in a way that unless you’re running everything at full-blast, your computer won’t be paging to disk as much. This has been handy for just about everything except VirtualBox, which will use everything that I give it. When that isn’t open, my "Memory Pressure" (the new way Apple is measuring memory usage quickly) stays well below 30%.

Too many people I know have fallen into the mindset of there being a certain baseline amount of memory for all computers to function properly. That’s simply not true, especially since a Mac with 4GB running a recent version of OS X feels more than adequate for most tasks. Power users and anyone with higher demands will appreciate 8GB and the 16GB found on the MacBook Pros should feel ridiculous. This may change in a few years, especially since Apple tends to wait until the very last moment before upgrading the minimum amounts of memory in their configurations. Still, it’s nice to see Macs feeling a bit more efficient, rather than 8GB or 16GB becoming the necessary minimum.

Those who regularly read this site know that I respect Microsoft as a company, but have been critical about a number of times in the past, and still prefer to use Apple’s ecosystem at the end of the day. However, when Windows 10 was available for those to try, I naturally gave it a chance on my work computer (a 2013 11" MacBook Air) in VirtualBox. The machine only has 4GB RAM, so I thought I’d see how it would run on on 2GB RAM. For productivity-type tasks, pretty well. I reduced it to 1.5GB RAM and didn’t notice any drawbacks. It’s now my go-to setup for the few Windows-related tasks I need at work and much more resource-friendly than a similarly-configured Windows 7 system in VirtualBox. Some of this comes from the fact that Microsoft is pushing Windows 10 on more low-end devices, like their answer to Chromebooks and inexpensive tablets. To be honest, it seems like it’s working after living with Windows 10 for a few weeks.

I’ll be doing some investigations on the HP Stream Mini desktop and seeing how it compares with some of our other PCs at work, especially the aging fleet of Core 2 Duo and early Core i5 machines. The fact that HP is shipping these with 2GB RAM and 32GB of storage is either completely stingy or that for what they’re expected to do, it’s more than adequate. Based on my Windows 10 Virtual Machine, I suspect the latter will be the case.

This leads me to the world of iOS devices. I see so many people complaining about the number of cores or RAM in each revision of the iPhone or iPad. I think that it took awhile, but in a lot of ways, we’ve reached a plateau of diminishing returns for awhile. As an anecdote, when I decided to replace my iPhone 4, it was just past two years old and had enjoyed two major iOS revisions. It felt like a two-year-old device. Contrast that with my iPhone 5 being replaced last year, and it’s still a very usable device, despite the iPhone 6 I currently carry able to run circles around it on most benchmarks. The iPads are the same way—using the iPad 2 and 3 felt like a chore during the early days of iOS 7, released between a year and a half and two years from the introduction of these devices. Meanwhile, I suspect the people using an iPad Air or iPad Air 2 will not be itching to upgrade in that short of time. Basically, I don’t care if my iPhone only has 1GB RAM if it’s able to run all day and still feel snappy as it ages.

This could be good for things like customer satisfaction and challenging developers to be mindful with their code. It may also be bad for the bottom line of hardware vendors, but forcing obsolescence is never a wise idea in the long run. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to see how our devices become more efficient and less wasteful, rather than just more powerful for the sake of some spec sheet.

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