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Is Two Or More Always Better Than One

PC performance enthusiasts live by the credo that if one of something is good, then anything more than one is always better. We now live in an age where we enjoy the benefits of plurality. To some extent, some of us even take this state of affairs for granted. Our machines today don't much resemble yesterday's machines, with our dual- or quad-core CPUs, multiple video cards, dual-channel RAM, dual-GPU video cards, multiple HDD RAID arrays, multiple optical drives, and so on and so forth. The very highest-performing personal machines have all these characteristics in their specs.

Despite the undeniable stoutness of the performance of such well-endowed machines, I find myself asking just how useful it is to have all that computing power. For most users, including performance enthusiasts, PC gaming is probably the most demanding task we put our machines through. Except for a very small percentage, though, not even the most modern games uses all that computing power to the fullest. Something is always left on the proverbial table.

One of engineering's maxims is, "There are no free lunches." Performance is always paid for one way or the other. Ignoring for a moment what this statement means in dollars and cents, what this means is that there is always a penalty (or a risk of one) when you push the performance envelope.

Let's take RAID 0 arrays, for one. RAID 0 arrays are a great way to alleviate the one true bottleneck in present-day machines. As my friend thlnk3r says, the throughput of even the fastest SATA HDD (10K RPM drives like Western Digital's Raptor series) is limited by the fact that it is a mechanical device; moving parts are always going to lose a speed race against something with no moving parts (because there would be absolutely no losses due to friction). In comparison, solid state storage devices (such as flash memory) are infinitely faster.

A RAID 0 array increases the performance of a single hard disk drive. However, there are two penalties incurred by using a RAID 0 array. The first is, obviously, you double the power draw devoted to storage. Two hard disk drives draw twice as much power as one drive. This implicates your power supply as well, as this is an added load that it has to support. Aside from the power draw, running a RAID 0 array also doubles your chances of running into a catastrophic storage subsystem failure. There is no redundancy involved in a RAID 0 setup, so if one of the HDDs is weak in the knees, your entire storage setup will go belly-up. The increase in performance is offset by the price you must pay to reap the benefits.

The question, though, is, do you really need a RAID 0 array? You could successfully argue that this is a useful example of a performance increase, even if it the penalties for it are significant.

But what of the latest multi-GPU setups? Or poly-core processors? Are these necessary? Do you really need QuadFire or Tri-SLI? Or a quad-core CPU?

Do we even need to overclock these expressions of hedonism and excess anymore?

Perhaps because I have limited means, but unquestionably I abhor waste. I find the over-abundance of power offered by the latest and the greatest hardware available today to be deplorable simply because all that power is going to waste, especially when you consider the fact that the vast majority of software available to the consumer market simply cannot harness and efficiently use all that power. The raison d'etre or possessing all that power is not borne out of a necessity for performance, but is inspired by an irrational need to soothe the ego.

Pursue performance passionately, yes. But not at the expense of logic and rationale.


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