after having spent some time with a Surface Go 2, a thought crossed my mind that I wanted to bounce off of you: also in computing, less can be more.
There’s a high likelihood I am pointing out the obvious here. Then again, there are so many instances in which the more powerful solution gets the thumbs-up, the shoulder-clapping, and an respectful grunt while the more well-balanced and well-integrated solution gets the “meh” that I think the idea - while not necessarily very innovative - might still be interesting to rehash, to ponder and discuss.
Couple of observations:
The past year, I tried working with a dual-27-sans-bezel screen setup (DELL U4919W). While some things were great (immersion while gaming), work simply felt overwhelming with many open windows staring back at me and the GUI elements being crammed way to the right and left, way out of my field of view. It felt like the screen worked me instead of me working the screen. So I got rid of it and got a 32 inch (DELL U3219Q) instead which fits perfectly into my primary field of view. Still, doing “thought-focused” work on the 10,5 inch Surface Go feels even more manageable. It simply gets more out of the way and is less distracting than anything bigger. It turns out that the larger share of my projects require thinking than pushing pixels from A to B (even though pushing pixels feels like I am working). Since it’s obvious that screen size is more or less useful with the type of job to be done, I am contrasting “thought-focused” work with “visually demanding” here. In the former, I suppose the tool rather assists a thought process and in the latter, you need to work with the data (usually coming from multiple sources) on the screen. When trying to do thought-focused work, a large screen can be distracting.
Simple mail software (Windows Mail) vs. full groupware (Outlook)
While I’ve been happy with working on Outlook for the past years, the web version of Outlook seems to have surpassed its desktop client counterpart in terms of GUI and ease of use. At the very least, it’s more modern. The desktop client is gradually following suit, but the online client felt more useful since it made clever decisions about dropping functions and buttons I could really do without. Enter Windows Mail: while I did my best to sneer at Windows Mail for five years, the Surface Go made me rediscover that little piece of software that goes even more into that direction: less buttons, more focus, less stress, more getting-things-done. I have to say that this may in part be the case due to it working well with Microsoft 365 (duh, but I tried other services with it before and it did not work well for me - particularly the integration of mail and calendar). Once again, rediscovered something simpler and turned out more happy with it.
i7, i9, 3950x, 24 cores vs. ARM, Apple chips, m3
One thing that the Surface made me aware off is that the speed of a reasonably modern CPU does not matter as much as its cooling and throttling. I am using a Surface Go 2 with an m3 chip. It can boost to 3,4 GHz, generally works around 2 GHz - but when it gets a heat stroke, it can go as low as 390 MHz. Whenever it has to do much of a prolonged amount of time, going far beyond 1,1 GHz is impossible. This leads to the CPU being busy and delaying responses often running into the “this app has ceased to work”-thresholds of the Windows GUI. Consequently, the computer feels inoperable - not, because its CPU would be too slow or its RAM would be to small, but because it cannot manage the exhaust of its temperature very well. In the past, throttling has been the source of a few great product innovation bruhahas (specifically the first introduction of i9s in MacBook Pros). If you are, like me, interested to go into rather smaller and more efficient technology solutions, the problem really occurs at the fanless balance of power and portability so somewhere around the m3 or Apple processors. If that balance is well done, a well-integrated smaller CPU implemented with a set of challenging restrictions in mind, will “outshine” (in terms of “It could do that, too? Wow!”) a more power CPU any day. I suppose that more challenging context simply will lead to more advanced products. If you can draw 250 Watts and throw 100 of that into your cooling fins, not much is won for most people without gigantic work loads.
More RAM, less RAM - "a thousand tabs in Chrome"
While I am writing this on a computer with 32 GB or RAM (not because I really need that but because RAM was cheap recently and “more is better”), I was excited to find that working with an 8 GB little tablet machine really is more than I’d most likely need. I would not consider myself entirely opposed of challenging computer tasks, but it’s simply impressive to see that the smaller, maybe even more frugal solution would work just as well for you, 95% of the times. While being cheaper and less wasteful (I know, there’s a philosophical debate to be avoided) 100% of the time. For an amusing twist: I just remembered that I have connected the Surface Go to my screen and am typing this on it instead of the 32-GB-desktop. Surprise, surprise: does not take more than 8 GB of RAM to browse the web or write a forum post. Indeed, the task manager says something about 4GB in use. Certainly, computing life is more complex than that but: it’s useful to reflect on how much you really need. That “Chrome is a memory hog” when reflecting that you have dozens of tabs open may not be a call to order new chips on amazon but maybe a reminder to close some tabs.
All of those observations, we will agree, depend on the nature and subject of your work and work flow - as well as preference, of course. I pointed to the proposed idea of the “thought-focused” and the “visually demanding” above.
However, there is one substantial influence on all of us: advertising. Most established brands are advertising and “making cool” the most powerful and most expensive solution with any derivative of that being a lesser trade-off to buy into innovation while spending a bit less. Very few brands on the marked advertise toward a less-is-more, focus-your-mind, you-don’t-need-that approach. The only one coming to my mind right now is The Light Phone (https://www.thelightphone.com/).
Given that the market is geared towards the bigger, the brighter, and the more powerful, there is a point to be made in the other direction: how much tech becomes too much and simply stands in the way between you and your project. No more “If you’re a big guy, you need a big computer, too, of course!”. Too many times, these tropes are being introduced by tech brands and echo back through tech journalists, in my opinion. Small solutions are always “cute”, big solutions are “wow”. I’d wager that often times, it’s worth to explore if the smaller solution is not the one that you can thoroughly put to use and that does not require so much attention that you spend more time administering than working.
As a final devil’s advocate: “get with the times, software will only become more demanding - of course you need to go more powerful than what you basically need today to future-proof” - sure. Don’t buy hardware or software that was obsolete yesterday. The idea is only to give a strong (!) counterbalance to feeling the urge toward buying high-performance solutions you don’t need. They might, counter-intuitively, stand in your way, afterwards.
Ok, after having written that, I feel considerably like I’ve been preaching to the choir. Still, I’d be interested to learn your perspectives.