With the right connection, pretty fast PCs are fast enough

Thomas R. Temin

It wasn't so long ago that pundits who measure office productivity pronounced the PC a failure. That is, the investments that agencies'
and companies'had made throughout the 1980s and early 1990s apparently weren't paying off in measurable white-collar productivity.

Ramping up

Then the picture started to change, and for the past several years the white-collar economy in the United States has undergone big productivity growth. In broad terms, you could also say governments have also become more productive.

Here's one example: Air Force Col. William Nelson, deputy director for chief information officer support, noted recently that even though the Air Force is 30 percent smaller, its fighting contingents are deployed 400 percent more often than in 1989. The ability to do this, he said, stems from information technology.

That's an extreme case perhaps, but clearly people are doing more with less, thanks to IT.

Why the reversal? No one has the definitive answer, but it seems to coincide with the growth in networks. Until the early '90s, the majority of PCs in government weren't connected.

Now they all are, either to one another directly through an agency LAN or WAN, or indirectly through the Internet. The productivity driver is the power behind the network infrastructure, not the ever-rising levels of power in individual PCs.

And that is why many government buyers are thinking twice about buying the fastest PCs available.

One side of the productivity equation is the input, or how much you spend on the productivity tools. The less you spend, the greater the potential leverage.

Judging from the lineup of computers listed in our cover story on bargain PCs, agencies have lots of choices if they opt not to buy the fastest computers with the newest chips. ''

Nowadays, the majority of office computing tasks can be done on last year's technology, which is far less expensive than the latest gear.

Early leads

During the 286, 386, 486 and early Pentium chip eras, processors and software were always leapfrogging one another. Processors got faster and software more bloated.

But ultrafast chip speeds simply aren't needed now for garden variety applications.

As senior contributing writer John McCormick points out on Page 9, a good-quality keyboard and monitor, and perhaps a chunk of RAM, will do more to enhance most users' experience than a faster processor.

You'll find Intel Celeron processors and various chips from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., in numerous low-priced machines with plenty of zip for office suites, database applications, e-mail and Web access.

To be sure, software developers, geographic information system workers, engineers and scientists still need the high-end stuff. But consider midtier gear for everyone else.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director


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