Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Benefits of Upgrading Your Computer Systems

I recently wrote about my decision to move from upgrading my MacBook Pro to using an iPad Pro. The second part of this upgrading issue was the age of my iMac. My six year old iMac has been threatening to die any time now. Instead of waiting until that inevitable day arrived, I decided to be proactive and move to a newer iMac after six or more months of deliberation. I have purchased literally hundreds of computers over the years (probably thousands) and the main reason for upgrading was always keyed to the advances in technology.

The most common part of this every advancing technological phenomena was the perceived speed of the machines. Every new computer seemed faster than the older models. Of course memory capacity improved and other features were added, but the decisive factor in my purchase of new computers was always the increased ability to work faster than I had previously. The need for speed was usually driving by the almost exponential growth of the amount of genealogical data I was acquiring and working with. Developments such as voice recognition software and high-end graphics programs also spurred my interest in acquiring newer technology.

About five or six years ago, computers finally seemed to become "fast enough." The real bottlenecks were not the speed of the computer, but the speed of transmitting data and access to the Internet. As more and more computer functions moved online, I found that I was not necessarily waiting for the computer to process the data, I was more frequently waiting for the hard drives to load or the programs to download data from the Internet. Now we come to Provo, Utah. Just as I arrived here from Mesa, Arizona, Provo became one of the few cities in the U.S. to get Google Fiber. Suddenly the speed of Internet connections became usable. Hard drives also improved in speed and once again, the speed of the computer itself became an issue.

Finally I decided to move to newer technology. So why the new iMac? Well the newest (and most expensive) iMac has a 3 TB Fusion Drive. This drive combines faster flash storage, like flash drives, and a very fast spinning hard disk drive. This is combined with a 4.0 GHz quad-core i7 processor running at about 3.7 teraflops. Let's just say that it is the functional equivalent of a supercomputer of just a few years ago.

Now I have both computers sitting side by side. Comparisons are easy to make. One thing is for certain, neither of the machines makes me type any faster, so I began the process of focusing more intently on voice recognition. I have been using Dragon Dictate for many years and it is upgraded regularly. I found, however, that, the developer of the Dragon series of VR programs, licenses their programs only to one computer. I previously found that when I bought a new computer, I had to re-buy the program. That is expensive and annoying. I was also not entirely happy with the upgrades. At one point, the program seemed to work very well, but subsequent upgrades seemed to be downgrades. I was getting quite frustrated with the program.

I began looking around for another solution. I soon found that Apple has integrated its own VR program into the operating system of the iMacs, actually into the OS X El Capitan operating system. The Enhanced Dictation program seems to have most of the features found in Dragon Dictate and with some experimentation and by using by digital headset, I was able to get almost perfect voice recognition at high speed. The level of bugs in the programs seems to be lower than the Dragon program and the Apple program can be turned on and off instantly with two keystrokes.

Genealogy is data intensive. Processing huge amounts of data, as I routinely do, is time consuming. Every incremental increase in efficiency is extremely important.

Now what about a reality check. You say, I don't really need all that computer power, I am fully utilizing my own capabilities with my old PC running Microsoft Windows XP with a dial-up connection to the Internet. My answer is that I used to drive a American Motors Rambler that took three blocks to get up to 35 miles per hour and had a top speed of about 60 mph. Not something I would drive on one of Utah Valley's freeways today.

I guess I will keep pushing the envelope.

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