Your brand new laptop blitzes the one you had five years ago in almost all of the important metrics, but computer engineer Dan Luu has spent some time confirming what many of us long suspected. There is one area where newer hardware lags behind older gear: latency.
That's the time it takes for a press on the keyboard to show up on the screen, and Luu found that the Apple IIe, first launched in 1983, beat out a collection of more modern computers with its latency response of 30 milliseconds. A 2014 MacBook Pro was lagging behind on 100ms, while a Windows machine running an Intel i7 processor took 200ms.
To gather his stats, Luu set up a camera in slow-motion mode fixed on the keyboard and computer screen, and ran each test several times to get an accurate average. He also tested several mobile devices, with the iPad Pro coming out on top with 30ms and iOS devices largely outperforming their Android counterparts.
All about the complexity
So why do older computers register key presses faster than newer ones, on the whole? It's all to do with the complexity of the systems – while older machines are nowhere near as powerful, they also have much less to handle in terms of inputs, outputs and all the various processes along the way.
"In practice, the solution to poor performance caused by 'excess' complexity is often to add more complexity," writes Luu. "In particular, the gains we've seen that get us back to the quickness of the quickest machines from 30 to 40 years ago have come not from listening to exhortations to reduce complexity, but from piling on more complexity."
In other words a full-scale code rewrite would be required to get the likes of Windows 10 and macOS High Sierra back to the latency speeds of 1983. However, Luu does say we're now emerging from the latency "dark ages", with modern-day computers and laptops starting to claw back some of the responsiveness they've lost.