1. Standard memberscottishinnz
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    21 Jun '06 22:48
    Well, having been told it couldn't be done, I decided to write a little discourse on the evolution of computers. I'm sure it'll start more than a little controversy, but that's why we're here, right kids?

    First, for the uninitiated out there I'll discuss the various parts of computers and how they relate to each other. happily, this will allow me to frame many of my terms of reference for the rest of the argument.

    Okay, computers, like biological organisms are made of components. In biology we call these components organs, tissues and cells. In computing we call them motherboard, processor, heat sink, RAM, Hard drive, video card, sound card, speakers, monitor, keyboard, power supply, box and mouse. Each part has it's function. I'll discuss the functions of some of these parts, both biological and computer components, with respect to their evolutionary past, and relate that to how they work. Don't get me wrong, I'm no expert on computers, although I've built a few in my time. Likewise, I'm no expert on evolutionary theory, although I've done many courses on it.

    First, I would like to focus on the Hard drive. This is the main data storage 'organ' of the computer, if you will. It looks, externally, like a small silver box, around the same size and shape as a sandwich. Internally, it consists of a series of magnetic disks on a spindle. There is also a head which can both code data to the disk and read it from the disks. Older hard drives tend to work at lower speeds, 5400rpm (still common in laptops and very large drives) but more commonly 7200rpm, with the fastest disks found in specialised graphics computers having hard drives with speeds of 10,000 or even 15,000 rpm. Hard drives can be connected to the rest of the computer in several ways. The most common is the IDE, or ATA, connection. More increasingly common nowadays are serial ATA (SATA), Random Array of Inexpensive Disks (RAID) and the Small Computer Serial Interface (SCSI), mainly due to decreases in cost.
    Interestingly, and not known by many people, the first computers didn't have hard drives (HDD), but stored all their information in the short term memory that we refer to as RAM. Whilst RAM is fast (although not as fast as cache), it is also comparitively expensive. So, the computer manufacturers had an idea for allowing the mass, long term, storage of data - magnetic tape. The magnetic tape is simply a long continuous magnetic strip wrapped around a spindle. I hope this is beginning to sound familiar. These huge magnetic tapes were miniturised and encapsulated into a cassette, with two spindles, and the tape wound from one side to the other. The tape "evolved" a protective cover. This was subsequently superceeded by making the magnetic surface a circle, and encapsulating it in a hard, shiny silver case, within the protection of the box. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say that it evolved by mutation and differential survival in the same way that biological systems do, but that it started off as a simple form, and became more complex over time, without losing it's initial function.
    This evolution of hard drives continues today, of course. Extra disks are added to the stack, which increases capacity. This is the equivolent to the duplication of genes, which can result in "new bits" being added to organisms. Of course, these new sections are added during development in biology, and influenced by the whole rest of the developing embryo. It's rare for this type of mutation to happen in biology, but has been shown in Drosophila.
    Many manufacturers make HDD. Seagate make the best, in my opinion. I've never had a seagate HDD go bad. But there are other manufacturers, Maxtor, Hitachi, Western Digital, IBM and so on. Nowadays, thanks to the efforts of Microsoft and Intel, different HDD are largely interchangable, because the interfaces etc have to be of a generic standard. This is due to the efforts of Microsoft and Intel (largely) in introducing standards. It, of course, led to the demise of many propriatory standards, and is therefore analagous to a mass exinction event. The different manufacturers produces are therefore analogous to different alleles of the same gene. That is to say different versions. The difference in controlling the overall speed, relaibility and power of the computer are less than the influence of alleles on a biological system, but that's to be expected because of the human influence within computing.

    More to come, especially upon the interaction of components, and computer networking, bat-fans!
  2. Standard memberXanthosNZ
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    21 Jun '06 23:20
    If Hard Drives evolved how do you explain throwbacks like the Deskstar (aka Deathstar)?
  3. Standard memberfrogstomp
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    22 Jun '06 00:31
    Originally posted by XanthosNZ
    If Hard Drives evolved how do you explain throwbacks like the Deskstar (aka Deathstar)?
    Geneticly defective foreign model?
  4. Standard memberscottishinnz
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    22 Jun '06 01:04
    Originally posted by XanthosNZ
    If Hard Drives evolved how do you explain throwbacks like the Deskstar (aka Deathstar)?
    Certainly not by intelligent design!

    Maybe a recessive allele?
  5. Standard memberscottishinnz
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    22 Jun '06 01:40
    Part two; The interchangability of bits; co-evolution and cooperation.

    When most novices go out and buy their first computer (or second, or third...) their primary consideration tends to be that or clock speed, which is to say who fast the CPU can process information. Normally, faster is better, but not always. A 2GHz celerron processor with lots of RAM, good graphics and sound chips on a decent motherboard with a high speed HDD may very well out perform a 3GHz Athlon or Pentium processor hooked upto a poor quality motherboard, with a very poor or no graphics co-processor and a 1995 5400rpm HDD. Things have to work together synergystically. Happily technologies tend to coevolve, and the success or failure of a new technology can (and often has) sink or swim based upon the availability of suitable (and affordable) components for it to interact with. Happily for AMD, they did not develop their Athlon 64 processor in 1956. 1956 was the year that IBM developed their first commercial HDD. It was called the IBM 350 RAMAC. It contained a mighty 5MB of storage space, and ran at an impressive 1200rpm. If AMD had developed their Athlon 64 then, it would have sunk into obscurity. Of course, there was no way they could develop a processor so complex at that time. They didn;t have either the know-how, nor the tools to develop or produce it. HDD, RAM, processors and especially motherboards all had to develop at the same pace. Now, that's not to say there can't be slight disparities between the development of a processor and it;s motherboard. Look at the Athlon 64, it was marketed before motherboards fully able to utilise it's processing power were fully developed. Poor quality motherboards able to deal with it were available, but high quality ones were not. Likewise, when the Athlon 64 was first marketed, Microsoft's Windows operating system was still not able to deal with it. They are improving this. This is, of course, all an allegory for evolution. The evolution of better eyes can lead to the evolutionary improvement of the optic nerve. Is every configuration in computing possible? Yes, probably. Is hooking up an Athlon 64 to an IBM 350 desirable? No. Would people buy that computer? No. That configuration would "go the way of the dodo", so to speak. Motherboard / CPU evolution are the most tightly tied together. There is no point developing a motherboard for a processor that doesn't exist! You could develop one, but your boss wouldn't be happy, because consumers would strongly select against your product. Processor / HDD co-evolution is less strong, because there is a less direct link between the two. Still, fast processors require lots of storage, and that storage has to be rapidly accessable.

    More as I get time!
  6. SubscriberAThousandYoung
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    I ROBOT
  7. Belfast
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    22 Jun '06 13:28
    Originally posted by scottishinnz
    Well, having been told it couldn't be done, I decided to write a little discourse on the evolution of computers. I'm sure it'll start more than a little controversy, but that's why we're here, right kids?

    First, for the uninitiated out there I'll discuss the various parts of computers and how they relate to each other. happily, this will allow me t ...[text shortened]... upon the interaction of components, and computer networking, bat-fans!
    Damn you and your mentioning of sandwiches!

    I'm hungry now.
  8. Standard memberBosse de Nage
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    22 Jun '06 13:34
    Originally posted by AThousandYoung
    I ROBOT
    Aye, robot?
  9. Joined
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    22 Jun '06 16:281 edit
    The evolution of cumputers? Oh no, I must be in the wrong thread. I was looking for the thread about the abiogenesis of computers. I'm sick of having to buy them you know.
  10. Standard memberXanthosNZ
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    22 Jun '06 16:39
    Originally posted by whodey
    The evolution of cumputers? Oh no, I must be in the wrong thread. I was sooking for the thread about the abiogenesis of computers. I'm sick of having to buy them you know.
    [Joke involving Touring/Turing]
  11. Standard memberHalitose
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    22 Jun '06 16:41
    Originally posted by scottishinnz
    Well, having been told it couldn't be done, I decided to write a little discourse on the evolution of computers. I'm sure it'll start more than a little controversy, but that's why we're here, right kids?

    First, for the uninitiated out there I'll discuss the various parts of computers and how they relate to each other. happily, this will allow me t ...[text shortened]... upon the interaction of components, and computer networking, bat-fans!
    Funny how these computer thingies have guys (or gals) who are vastly more complex and greatly more intelligent designing them to fit a certain need/niche in our ever changing (evolving?) electronics age.
  12. Standard memberscottishinnz
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    22 Jun '06 20:51
    Originally posted by Halitose
    Funny how these computer thingies have guys (or gals) who are vastly more complex and greatly more intelligent designing them to fit a certain need/niche in our ever changing (evolving?) electronics age.
    Ah, you preempted me. The point with this is that whilst there are designers for computer components, there is no single designer for whole computers. Thus, it can be successfully argument that no single designer exists. Likewise, since no single person controls which computers succeed commercially, the selection process is not "intelligent" either.
  13. London
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    23 Jun '06 13:19
    And here I thought you were going to talk about EDVAC, EDSAC, IBM, x85s etc.
  14. Standard memberKellyJay
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    23 Jun '06 15:411 edit
    Originally posted by scottishinnz
    Ah, you preempted me. The point with this is that whilst there are designers for computer components, there is no single designer for whole computers. Thus, it can be successfully argument that no single designer exists. Likewise, since no single person controls which computers succeed commercially, the selection process is not "intelligent" either.
    I agree that there are many different designers, there are many
    different designers all working on the same piece of the computer
    too, but I promise you that if the designs are not designed to work
    together, it becomes nothing worth while. What good would a great
    hard drive for a PC be it if didn't work with any motherboard in any
    PC? If all the designers that work on the same sound card are not
    working together the sound card itself will be useless too.
    Kelly
  15. Standard memberscottishinnz
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    23 Jun '06 20:51
    Originally posted by KellyJay
    I agree that there are many different designers, there are many
    different designers all working on the same piece of the computer
    too, but I promise you that if the designs are not designed to work
    together, it becomes nothing worth while. What good would a great
    hard drive for a PC be it if didn't work with any motherboard in any
    PC? If all the design ...[text shortened]... the same sound card are not
    working together the sound card itself will be useless too.
    Kelly
    Ah, the importance of standards, my good man.
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