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“Why Does So Much Equipment These Days Have ‘Software’ Versions?”

inSync reader F. C. asks, “Why does so much equipment these days have ‘software’ versions?”

Most manufacturers have realized that they can save money and build more powerful products by having their functionality controlled by software as opposed to dedicated hardware devices. In the old days when our musical equipment was designed and built around hardware components the finished product could never be significantly changed without major modifications (anyone ever see a FORAT mod on a Linn 9000?), which often were too expensive to justify. Consequently, once manufacturers figured out better ways to do things and thought of new features to add, they simply put out a new product which obsoleted the old product. It was the only cost effective way to do it at the time.

Nowadays it is more common for a manufacturer to use some sort of generic CPU (see WFTD above CPU) to control the functions of the unit and have it use an instruction set (program) that is either on a system ROM chip, in Flash RAM, or loaded from disk each time the unit boots. This allows a manufacturer to change things about the way the unit operates and add new features without having to do major (expensive) hardware rebuilds. The adoption of this kind of technology into our electronic equipment has been, perhaps, the single biggest factor in the advancement of capabilities offered for the money spent. To build a machine with equivalent capabilities of a Kurzweil K2500 back in 1980 (if it was even possible, which I doubt) would have cost end users well over $100,000 and been the size of a house. The computing power just didn’t exist at any practical level (just ask any Synclavier owner) and it would have taken 20 different hardware based systems to handle all the functions of the one machine.

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