​The Frankenstein PC vs. Harmonious tech design

Why black beats green and how a Ferrari-powered lawnmower might not be a great idea

It was black for a very good reason. The SR-71 Blackbird - even more than the sum of its parts. (Picture: Bernt Rostad, Flickr).

It was black for a very good reason. The SR-71 Blackbird - even more than the sum of its parts. (Picture: Bernt Rostad, Flickr).

There is always an urge, when building a PC, to throw the best parts all together and have the fastest monster PC there is. This same logic follows people everywhere and has made its way into laptops as well.

We all know that if we put a giant dinosaur-bone burning engine into a car the result is a very really a fast car. So why do people assume that with a super power processor, or a high speed SSD the laptop is going to be fast and always fast? Why focus on the buzz feature component?

Even Moore’s Law which is built around “the doubling of transistors” follows on with:

What Moore called "circuit and device cleverness"

It isn’t very clever to put a big engine into a car that was designed to have low fuel consumption, a comfortable ride and brilliant inner city handling. If this defines the car that’s to be designed, it has failed. What about how fast it would go in a straight line? Probably terribly again and without the right running gear, transmission, brakes etc it will probably be slower than a well-balanced design or not run more than once. So why after so many years do people still assume a great processor makes a great computer? Once you have developed a great petrol engine that has hit its engineering limits, it is perhaps time to start focussing on the “cleverness” of the rest of the vehicle and its sub systems.

This is where the fun part starts in computer design especially, what parts do matter then? Well, all of them. Everything matters. A system is only good as its weakest link, that’s what makes it a complete system. It is a unique, homogeneous unit made up of all sorts of individual, engineering breakthroughs that individually don’t do much, but together become the extension of a human being that only the human itself could limit with its own imagination. That’s what a computer is, an enabler and extension of human imagination and thought, the perfect tool to go beyond and break free.

So as with Frankenstein, strong hands, a strong torso and a strong head didn’t deliver a pretty picture to work with, or something that was what you would define as aesthetically pleasing or efficient. What makes you think a PC would be any better? Or any piece of tech? Grabbing a great processor, great RAM and an SSD don’t make a great PC.

When we design a product, if the design tolerances are wide, then it’s easier for these individual bits to fit together and be assembled and work. If a screw hole is a little larger than it should be, it’s easier for the screw to fit, however if the screw hole for example is very tight, then there is a chance the screw will get damaged at the time of assembly or worse yet, because it’s so tight, it experiences higher stress levels and becomes prone to failure with time. So Engineers tend to loosen things up a little. The issue here is, this screw is probably only 1 of 100 screws in the system and then the problem only extrapolates and you have widening tolerances which lead to 100 screws being a little looser than they should be and the end product feels a little flimsy and wobbly. Sound familiar? Expand that out to thousands of screws and think US cars vs German or Japanese cars for example. The same applies to a laptop computer both physically and electronically.

Throw in a monster CPU, it has to read data from somewhere and if it is drawing information from the SSD, via RAM for example at a rate that the SSD can deliver faster than the CPU can crunch, the CPU will increase its clock frequency, that is if the software is coded in such a manner and simplistically put the CPU will draw on more power, the fans kick in to cool it down and a new cycle begins. We now have hot air flow running around all components of the board including the system RAM, the keyboard and all the ports and bridges. Is the chassis aluminium or plastic? Does it dissipate heat well? Have a lot of high-end-sounding parts been put into a simple plastic chassis? Are these high-end parts assisting the system to work faster now or are they actually hindering this plastic-built laptop’s speed and reliability?

Now we get into the realm where many things start to matter, once we go into a sub stream, of a sub component of the system such as the chassis, its individual composition also starts to matter. Because, everything matters.

What colour is the chassis? And why would that even matter? Take the SR-71 BlackBird. It for me was and is still a pinnacle of human engineering. How come spy planes such as the SR-71 BlackBird were black? It was painted black so to radiate more heat - and according to the black body radiation law, this was feasible. “The Blackbird is painted with a black paint that consists of a pigmentation containing minute iron balls. These dissipate electro-magnetically-generated energy and effectively lower the chances of the plane being picked up by radar. The special black finish also wards off heat caused by high speeds and actually radiates significantly more friction-generated heat than it absorbs at cruising speeds of Mach 3." The paint was to lessen emissions, not increase them. You don't really want to reflect or radiate energy and heat when trying to sneak in and out of enemy territory. I guess the type of paint mattered here.

So does colour composition and paint colour affect a laptop computers thermal efficiency? Yes of course it does, black for example is cool in more ways than one. What’s important here is by how much? If we take every sub system of the overall system and give it some type of percentile system weight, then each component even though on its own it may only affect a systems performance by less than 0.5%. Doesn’t sound important? Well since a tyre on a car makes up for about 0.4% of a cars total mass, how important is it? You’re not going very far or fast with a tyre missing on your Porsche. The same applies to a mechanical watch, which part is more important inside, if one cog is a little stronger than another piece? The part will soon wear out because of the mismatch, affectively rendering the system useless. A watch that cannot tell the time well, is a pointless device. It needs to last longer than 1 day on battery as well ;)

So the colour of your laptop matters: what it is made of and what type of finish has been used are just as important. Can marketers send this message affectively to consumers? No they can’t, the message is too complex to be sent in a 30-second video alone. Should they have to be able too? Well no as well. What matters here is, does the system work well? It can also be just one of the many reasons why a 4.5 watt CPU in a BlackBook Zero can for example have better performance than the Surface Pro 4 which has a 15-Watt processor. What’s important here is that the BlackBook Zero performs better in real life usage than the Surface Pro 4, even though on paper at first glance maybe it shouldn’t.

Each sub component needs to be equally matched in purpose, if the purpose of the laptop as a system is for it to be portable, sleek, energy efficient and quick, it should not have fans, it also shouldn’t be pushed by a high speed SSD to force the CPU to keep up with high speed data being transferred as it is only going to heat up and become less efficient, consume more power, make noise, lose thermal energy and effectively run slower.

All of this can be explained in great depth and to show it all in simplistic marketing terms doesn’t do it justice, except, we could just say we are the best. The proof is in the device, the “why” slips into the shadows, but the end product needs to be simply faster, dead quiet, cool to the touch and better to use. No compromises is a term used lightly sometimes. Everything matters. That’s also why everything also looks good in Black.

Jaan Turon is Chief Designer and Director of Venom Computers | Twitter | Instagram: jaanturon

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