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nice logical analysis and argumentation, unfortunatedly not quite correct, as the "two different points" are entangled, thus they have to be discussed together.
Let me try again:
There is a gap between memory speed and CPU speed. This gap has grown over the past and probably will continue to grow - or let's even say it'll remain constant. It certainly will not lower or get inverse as long as we will have traditional von-Neuman machines instead of systolic fields or whatever.
Therefore: Yes, there are algorithms that gain speed by trading memory for it even if the memory is slower than the processing element. But our computers are not theoretical turing machines with infinite ressources there are hard limits. One of these hard limits is direct 4GB adressing for 32bit architectures.
If you hit this limit, your design decisions get a severe limitation in dimensionality. Often you have to rely on a implementation using the "remaining features" of your hardware. And in our case this is using the (relatively) enormous amounts of disk space compared with RAM space.
So: IF the gap between memory and CPU speed will continue to grow (the most likely scenario), trading memory for clock cycles may very well backfire. Admittedly this is a long term view and should only be seen as an auxiliary argument for re-thinking of perls memory usage design philosophy (or dogma?).
The more important argument is the real world situation: By trading very (too) much memory for clock cycles you hit the hard limits sooner, which forces you to use features of todays hardware that are inferior to other features you cannot use because of the hard limit.
So my whole argument is: IMHO the design decision "Memory for Speed" is too weighted into one direction only. Perl would gain a big leap in flexibility if a pragma (or whatever) could state something like: "use LessMem;" every User could decide if the resulting gain in available memory and loose in speed is ok for his applications. But those of us that hit the hard limits of todays hardware could live just as long with such a perl until a 64bit 40GB RAM machine gets custom hardware. And even then some might wish not to hit THAT hard limit...
As for a remark in this thread about the development ressources we'd be willing to invest into this. Well - we have no knowledge of the perl internas but this problem is critical to our application, so yes - we'll probably try some inline C, C has lib, and if all of these won't help - we'll dig into perlguts. :-)