1988 vs. 2008: A Tech Retrospective

  • Price: $1724
  • CPU: 2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: 160GB HD, PC Card slot, SD Card slot, external CD/DVD recorder
  • Display: 12.1-inch 1024-by-768 LCD, 16.7 million colors
  • Weight: 3.6 pounds (6.1 pounds including adapter, ultrabase, and DVD burner)
  • Battery life: 6 hours

Laptops in Toshiba's T1200 series ranked among the most popular of their day, combining very good portability, performance, and value, and were warmly recommended in many reviews, including PC World's. Of course the definition of a "laptop" is different now, and a model that weighed 14 pounds including essential accessories such as a modem and charger would be a nonstarter--or a desktop--today.

That said, LCD laptops represented a major advance in size and weight over the CRT suitcase models that Compaq pioneered. The T1200H was doubly impressive for its 20MB hard drive--a major expense and weight in those days. Adding a 2400-baud modem would cost you another $400 or so.

How have things changed? Well, to start with, you could fit three ThinkPad X61 laptops into the same space that the Toshiba occupied, and you could run any one of those ThinkPads three times longer and many times faster than the T1200H could go. And if you did buy three ThinkPads, you still wouldn't have spent as much as you did on the Toshiba in 1988.

The future trend in portables is to get smaller and thinner, thanks to shrinking component sizes. But you can go only so low with a full-size screen and keyboard, so look for fold-up screens and keyboards that eliminate these size constraints.

1988: 150MB Core HC150

  • Price: $4995 ($8755 adjusted for inflation)
  • Cost per MB: $33 ($58 adjusted)
  • Seek time: 17ms
  • Controller: ESDI ($495)
  • Data Transfer rate: 1.25 mbps
  • Heads/Disks: 9/5
  • Expected life: 50,000 hours

2008: 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11

  • Price: $363
  • Cost per MB: $0.000363
  • Seek time: 9ms
  • Controller: SATA 3Gbps
  • Data Transfer rate: 300 mbps
  • Heads/Disks: 8/4
  • Expected life: 750,000 hours

Hey, want to buy a 1-terabyte hard drive for $5.8 million? We thought not. But based on per-megabyte prices in 1988, that's how much a 1TB drive would have cost in 2008 dollars.

By contrast, today's top-of-the-line 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 is one of the fastest drives around and dirt-cheap at just $363.  Back in 1988, of course, we didn't have scads of 10-megapixel photos and high-definition video cluttering up our drives, much less entire music libraries. (You can fit about 2500 CDs on a 1TB drive in lossless format, and far more as compressed MP3 files.)

Hard drives perfectly exemplify the law that content expands to occupy available space. In the future, we'll probably continue to fill up every yottabyte and gibibyte that the storage gods bestow on us, even if we have to get a PhD in units of measure to comprehend the volume of space available to us.

But the true game-changer in storage is no longer capacity; it's size. Ever-tinier flash drives provide the data needed for powerful handheld devices, from cameras and smart phones to media players.

Color Printers

1988: AlpsALQ300

  • Price: $995 ($1744 adjusted for inflation)
  • Printhead: 24-pin color dot-matrix
  • Speed: 31 seconds/page in letter-quality mode, up to 10 minutes/page for color graphics
  • Interface: Serial

2008: Canon Pixma iP3500

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