Now You Can Melt The 14th Dimension - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
10:04 AM

Now You Can Melt The 14th Dimension

SGI is retailing what looks like the first "personal supercomputer," and the $7,000 or so price tag isn't too much to pay for the power to warp space-time from the comfort of your desk, it is?

SGI is retailing what looks like the first "personal supercomputer," and the $7,000 or so price tag isn't too much to pay for the power to warp space-time from the comfort of your desk, it is?I know it's not targeted at the same consumers who might by an iMac, but I can all but guarantee that a few people in my neighborhood will give it serious consideration. That's because the standard way to brand and then sell technology products is to equate "more" and "faster" with better, even if that additional capacity is never put to use. The phenomenon isn't exclusive to high-tech, either: I have a friend who has an industrial lathe in his basement workshop, and I've never seen him do anything handy in his house beyond hanging the occasional picture. I bet he's already thinking of upgrading.

The SGI Octane III is loaded with stuff that sounds as powerful as it does incomprehensible, starting with 1TB of memory and practically infinitely expandable high-performance cores. I know that we'll think it's quaint when we look back from the vantage point of our habispheres in orbit around Pluto, but right now the speeds and storage seem astronomically beyond reason. I might just as well buy my own personal jetpack or tactical nuclear grenade launcher.

It makes me wonder just how sustainable the "more/better" technology pitch can stay.

At some point, doesn't a sales issue emerge when the added capabilities extend just far enough beyond the intellectual grasp of most consumers, not to mention even the pretense of any real utility? I think consumers have already hinted as much with their tepid responses to Microsoft's last OS launch, or the PC models coming from Dell, et al. We've also seen it in the reaction to the latest mobile phone hardware, which sometimes seem to do so many things that the phones don't really do any one thing at all.

Technology marketers are going to hit a wall sooner versus later, just like consumer packaged goods people encountered when the almost annual "more/better" versions of toothpaste and floor polish couldn't command a price premium over the products they replaced. "Better" is going to need a new definition; my hunch is that meaning, relevance, and utility will matter far more than faster speeds and feeds.

In the meantime, though, I'm going to check out the SGI computer. There are dimensions in the multiverse just waiting to be explored, and I can't believe my iMac won't take me there!

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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