17 January 2008

Geekery: the march of progress

[The following was copied over from a post I wrote on a different blog back in December 2006.]

One of the tracks on my playlist is of a Canadian guy doing a stand-up routine that parodies an Internet helpdesk call (but not by far). The comedian mentions "a computer with a thousand times the power of the one we used to land on the moon" and prompted by a photo of the 5MB-capacity great-grandaddy of the hard disk in the computer you're using right now, I thought I'd do the math.

IBM 305 RAMAC disk storage unit vs. 1GB SanDisk Cruzer:

The IBM drive has roughly 60 cubic feet of cabinet volume, the jumpdrive roughly three-tenths of a cubic inch. Once the storage capacities of the two systems are factored in, the contemporary gadget enjoys almost two million times the efficiency of its ancestor (though it probably doesn't have nearly its ancestor's service life).

In terms of the volume of the actual storage media the numbers aren't nearly so far apart, as the flash storage on the jumpdrive takes up a significant proportion of the unit's overall volume, while its predecessor's magnetic media only occupied rougly 1/18th of its cabinet (with much of the remainder left over to vacuum tubes and machinery).

...And we won't even get started on the weight difference.

Apple MacBook vs. AGC Block II:

It's harder to compare these two machines, as they have completely different hardware architectures in almost every imaginable respect, designed to wholly different requirements. However, a look at the MacBook's spec page and various pages describing the the Wikipedia entry for the Apollo Guidance Computer yields the following factors of increased performance (bigger = better):

  • ROM: 3⅔x
  • RAM: 280,000x
  • CPU clock speed: 894x
  • Weight: 9x
  • Power consumption: 0.53x (the MacBook uses almost twice the electricty!)

And for the same reasons I didn't go into the subject of weight before, we'll avoid the discussion of the cost difference between these two pieces of hardware, except to point out that the MacBook is possibly something you can still afford even if you need to ask how much it costs.

These huge numbers are the result of a positive feedback loop. Computers are used to design more powerful computers (lather, rinse, repeat…) until the computers grow powerful enough to bump against constraints in the laws of physics (which is what this dual- and quad-core processor nonsense is about).

1 comment:

CJH / esper said...

Greetings Ben:
Found this post from your coment on Whatever, and enjoyed it... although the not-really-a-link supplied thereon made it a dicey proposition. To allow more people to find this fine article, you might change this:
<a>1GB jumpdrive vs. IBM 305, MacBook vs. AGC</a>

into something more like this:
<a href="http://snarkymumbles.blogspot.com/2008/01/geekery-march-of-progress.html"
>1 GB jumpdrive vs. IBM 305, MacBook vs. AGC</a>
which -- when written without the character escapes -- should work like this .

Good to hear from another fan of Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie. BTW, if you haven't yet heard them perform Every OS Sucks, allow me to recommend it for your enjoyment. (OSen seem to get more bloated, more buggy, and less efficient with each new so-called "advance" -- unlike the hardware advances you cite.¹)

¹ In reality, the only advances are in the version numbers and the number of times the same tech is pitched to the suckers^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hesteemed customers with a new coat of paint and a fresh spiel. AHS, ASS.²

² All hardware sucks, all software sucks.