Web junk chokes chips

Web junk chokes chips

Despite advances in chips, PCs are struggling to cope with all the rubbish that the web throws up

“There has been no need for any increase in computing power on the desktop for some time.” So said Gartner analyst Ranjit Anwal in an article by IT Week’s Daniel Robinson five years ago. Just how powerful a machine was Anwal alluding to?

Answer: a pretty ordinary P4 single-core system. The piece was written when Intel was about to ship its Springdale and Canterwood motherboard chipsets plus Communications Streaming Architecture, making corporate Gigabit Ethernet networking possible.

Fast forward to last month when we saw a raft of new eight-core beasts from AMD and Intel, new developments in 45nm silicon technology, and a deal between Intel and Microsoft to sponsor a Berkeley University project to make machines faster, now that the silicon itself is running out of upgrade steam.

We’ve known for years that doubling a processor didn’t give you twice the power; that quad processors gave you barely three times the power of one; and that eight processors gave more than four times the crunch, but not as much as six times. Diminishing are the returns of multi-processing ­ bring on true parallelism.
But why do we think we need it?

I think I’ve found one answer. Load your PC with Mozilla’s Firefox browser, install AdBlock, and then go to foxbusiness.com and fire up the advert scanner. I found 43 script files, four iFrames, two web beacon images, and three Flash files.

It’s the worst I’ve seen outside pure spam sites, but other sites aren’t far behind. And how bad is that? Fire up your task manager, and watch the CPU percentages climb, as these scripts load each other up. Within minutes, I showed Firefox accounting for 98 per cent and 99 per cent of CPU cycles ­ all externally loaded scripts and Flash.

Utterly inefficient script interpreters, completely valueless animations, and simply irritating video clips can reduce a powerful dual-core 64bit machine to a level where real work takes real time.

I don’t need this software garbage dumped onto my system, and I’m disabling it. I can see ISPs taking a similar view of this spam. But will Intel, Microsoft and Apple be happy? How will they keep selling based on newer, faster, shinier?