We have a similar problem with graphics hardware, but it's even more evil. Moore's Law more or less says that in a given period of time, computer technology gets twice as fast. In the case of graphics cards, each generation of cards (coming out about every 12-18 months) is twice as fast as the last.
This has some scary implications for X-Plane. Consider these stats for video cards (taken from Wikipedia):
Card Date fill rate Bus Memory bwLet's assume we support any video card in the last 5 years (in truth we support more than that). The difference between the best card and the oldest in w006 was 13,680 MT of fill rate.
GF3 01Q4 1920 MT/S 4x 8 GB/S
GF4 Ti 03Q1 2400 MT/S 8x 10 GB/S
GF5950 03Q4 3800 MT/S 8x 30.4 GB/S
GF6800 04Q2 7200 MT/S PCIe16 35.2 GB/S
GF7900 06Q1 15600 MT/S PCIe16 51.2 GB/S
GF8800 06Q4 36800 MT/S PCIe16 86.4 GB/S
GF9800 08Q2 47232 MT/S PCIe16/2 70.4 GB/S
Now in 2008 the difference is 43,432 megatexels per second!
In other words, the gap between the best and worst cards we might support is over 3x larger in only 3 years!
This is no surprise - since cards get twice as fast with every revision, the gap for a given number of generations also gets twice as wide.
What this means for us, programming X-Plane, is that coming up with a single simulator that runs on the very best and worst hardware is becoming increasingly more difficult, as the performance gains at the high end run away.