From megahertz to megabits

Posted Aug 05, 2006 in Technology.

Almost 11 years ago to the day, I took delivery of my very first IBM-compatible personal computer. It was a Pentium P133 from Dell, running one of the first copies of Windows 95, and it cost me £5,000. It was particularly expensive because it had SCSI drives (including the CD-ROM), lots of RAM, and a 17-inch monitor. Everything was about getting the most power and speed possible. It was all about clock speed. I wanted to do video editing with it, but mostly it was used for playing Descent.

11 years later, megahertz has given way to gigahertz. The clock speed of a computer is far less important than it was. Even a cheap computer can run most of the software available, and games rely on fancy video cards more than processor cycles. Everything depends on how many megabits per second you can get from your internet connection nowadays. Having a narrow bandwidth is a bit like trying to eat your dinner through a straw. If you still have the misfortune to rely on a dial-up connection, you might as well live in some famine-racked part of north Africa.

Even with the claimed 6-8 megabits per second I get from my supplier, the connection feels slow sometimes. When I use Skype to talk to my family, I find that their reduced bandwidth is a great handicap. It is often so bad, in fact, that I get frustrated and prefer to use audio only!

Anyway, I just think it is interesting that the emphasis has changed so much over the last decade or so. We rely more and more on the service our telecommunications providers can deliver, rather on the amount of money we can spend on purchasing a computer.


  1. Gravatar

    My first computer was about 7 or 8 years ago; which is far longer than I thought. It was an NEC, Pentium 333Mh and, 128MB RAM, Windows 98SE(?) and a 4MB video card I believe. I now use a AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+, 2GB RAM, Windows XP Pro and Nvidia 9700 Graphics Card.

    I just upgraded from Verizon DSL to RCN Cable (MegaModem Mach 10) and I download most of the time around a MB/s and upload around 800KB/s.

    In regards to Skype, I used to use it often but lately it seems that it has been really laggy and choppy so I just use Ventrilo for my needs.

    Posted by James Henry on Aug 06, 2006.