“The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year. Certainly over the short term this rate can be expected to continue, if not to increase. Over the longer term, the rate of increase is a bit more uncertain, although there is no reason to believe it will not remain nearly constant…” —Gordon Moore, 1965, Electronics Magazine
When Gordon Moore came up with the basic principle outlined above -- put simply, that the number of transistors in a given circuit would double every two years -- he was simply making an observation. He had no idea it would come to be known as “Moore’s Law,” but sure enough, since the earliest days of computers the most certain aspect of the business has been that no matter what computer you buy, it’s hopelessly out of date after just a few years. As if proving the point, computers and electronics from the year 2011 would be laughed out of any serious tech conversation, the equivalent of showing a bone and flint axe to a roman centurion with a steel sword and massive shield. Here are some of the biggest differences between computing power just five short years ago and today.
Size and quality of your laptop screen
Of the best-selling laptops of 2011, the largest screens were 15-inch behemoths, some of which are still popular (though in updated forms) today. In the past five years, laptops have begun to push past 15-inches, which was formerly a hurdle due to the fragility of larger screens and the fact that display technology simply couldn’t handle the size (but more on that later). The real important changes, however, have come in the quality of smaller laptop screens. For example, a 12-inch Chromebook built for internet access in 2011 had a resolution of 1,280 x 800. A smaller machine in 2016 with a pixel count of 1,366 x 768 was considered weak in a TechRadar review, illustrating that in five years, the quality of picture has changed dramatically. Now every glorious pixel of that Powerpoint -- or whatever else you're into -- is perfectly merged with more of its fellows than 2011 users could have imagined.
One of the most drastic changes that has affected your computer in the past half decade is the size and price of additional storage. A hard drive purchased five years ago is probably replete with vents, requires an electrical socket as well as a USB connection to the computer, and if it’s 500GB or more, is probably the size of a small cinderblock. But with the advent of smaller and smaller externals (thanks, Mr. Moore!) a full terabyte can be about the size on an iPod -- remember those?
The phone that plugs into your computer
When you plugged your phone into the computer in 2011, it was probably to make sure your latest Words With Friends Score would live on for posterity. Maybe upload a few tiny pictures worthy only of social media. With the newest generation of smartphones, however, HD is an understatement and the gaming possibilities are enormous. Pokemon Go!, for example, would run on a 2011 smartphone about as well as Words With Friends would work on a flip-phone. And when you plug that phone into your 2016 laptop, the pair work much better together than they would have half a decade ago. Faster uploads for videos and endless torrents of selfies, cleaner and more consistent connections, and a generally better aesthetic have become the norm, but the most important thing smartphones have given computers in the past five years is the touchscreen. As screens get bigger and bigger, tech that began on smartphones has made its way into our computers in ways that would have been unthinkable in 2011.
Check out the new Samsung Notebook 7 spin if you want something that's actually future-proof. It’s ready for today with a core i7 processor, an impressive 1 terabyte hard drive, 12GB of RAM1 and an NVIDIA 940MX GPU that brings gaming to life. It’s also built for tomorrow, as you can upgrade your PC with an SSD to cut down on load time, or additional RAM so you can do more at once.
In 2011, the worlds of cell phones, tablets and computers were a bit of a jumble. Everyone was trying to master all three at once, leading to operating systems that were more concerned with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) that was usable for touch screens than an operating system that performed the optimal functions of a desktop or laptop. In 2016, however, the two entities have been independently advanced enough that newer operating systems are able to work well with touch screens on tablets and full keyboard setups as well. Part of the necessity for this advance has been the advent of dual-purpose laptops, which combine a high-powered tablet with a folding full keyboard.
The top of the line processor one might get in a new computer in 2016 can be expected to run at a base clock of 3.00 GHz and a 3.50 GHz boost clock, which means, very simply, that your laptop is crazy fast -- damn near instantaneous. And even though you probably thought the same thing about the processor in your brand new computer five years ago, the boost clock on a high-end laptop in 2011 was closer to 2.5GHz, which if you had to deal with now, you’d bang your proverbial head against a wall -- and maybe your actual head too.
In a world where we stream more high-quality video through internet browsers than through cable boxes, it’s important to have a browser that can handle the incredible amount of flashes, bangs, buzzer-beaters and hot-tub scenes. A 32-bit program like the one you probably used in 2011 might still play your Netflix queue, but you’d almost certainly be disappointed with the quality. One of the main reasons is that a 64-bit browser can be expected to have 145.6 RAM on opening and 905.3 with 10 tabs running. Compare this to the average 32-bit browser, which has 135.8 at the start and 583.1 with 10 tabs going. If, as a kid, you were constantly in awe of how much better 64-bit consoles like those released at the turn of the millennium were than the smaller video games of the early '90s, this captures some of the excitement computer geeks felt when the 64-bit browser was introduced. After all, you couldn't watch House of Cards on an N-64.