Evolution of computing
Dave Tutelman -
just got a smartphone. I didn't get it as a phone, though of course it
has that capability. I got it as a computer! I have been watching for
an inexpensive but good-quality Android phone, because there are a few
Android apps for golf that I'd like to use. It has to be a phone rather
than my Android tablet, because of portability reasons; I want to take
it on the golf course with me, and I want it in my pocket mapping and measuring my Saturday walks.
I wound up with an LG Tribute LS660, set up for a
prepaid account with Sprint. I paid $40 for the phone, on sale at Best
Buy. In other words, a low price but from a reputable brick-and-mortar
store, not eBay or Craigslist. As I said, I didn't care about the phone
plan; I just
wanted a very portable Android computer. In the future, I may decide to
switch from Verizon to Sprint, but I'm in no hurry to do it at the
moment; my LG flip phone from Verizon does a perfectly acceptable job as a cell phone.
in my first couple of hours of playing with the Tribute, it struck me
that this tiny gadget is the current heir to the computing legacy I
have watched and lived since I was a teenager -- and I was astounded
how far we
have come. Of course, I knew it intellectually all along, but today's
knowledge was visceral, a punch in the gut. So I decided to compare
computing benchmarks at three points in
How about some background on these three computers.
- In 1961, I had a summer job as a junior engineer for
IBM. I was part of the large team that got the 7094 out the door and
into the field. The following year, I joined Bell Labs and went to MIT
for my Masters degree. These were two of the highest tech organizations
around. MIT's computation center proudly boasted an IBM 7094, the
ultimate in computing at the time. Bell Labs actually had three: one
for each of its major locations.
- In 1982, IBM introduced the
PC. (Actually, it was a year earlier, but by 1982 many people --
including me -- were in an organization that had one of them.) I became
very familiar with its programming and its internals in the 1980s, and
the programming and internals of its descendants.
brings us to today (2015), and the LG Tribute smartphone. Let's ignore that it also
contains a phone, and just see it as a
Yes, computers once looked like that. In fact, a single computer
looked like that. That's right; everything in the room comprises one computer.
When it came out at the end of 1961, the 7094 was the biggest, fastest
computer around. (With the exception of the
"Stretch supercomputer", specially built for the NSA and
research.) Those tape drives were the offline file storage; you can see
tape reels behind the console, waiting to be mounted for a
job. A really
big installation might have a hard disk unit, but most 7094 comp
centers used tape -- and punched cards to input to the tape. All those
refrigerator-size appliances taking up the back left of
the photo comprise the CPU and the internal memory of the computer.
Only the biggest institutions could afford the dollars, space, and
personnel to run a 7094 computer installation.
IBM Personal Computer sat on a desk. I chose a picture that included a
phone and modem for comparison, because the LG Tribute includes a phone and a several
modems in its small case.
The horizontal slots in the front of the CPU
box are floppy-disk drives. The IBM PC could have three quarters of a
megabyte of data mounted in its two drives. That was actually quite
generous compared with most 1961 computers. But not compared to 1982
mainframes and minicomputers; they tended to have fairly generous disk
drives -- "generous" meaning tens or even a few hundreds of megabytes.
But the thing that made the PC special was the "Personal". It sat on your desk, and you
were the only one who used it. Nothing like that had ever happened
before with a business computer.
LG Tribute LS660
all know about this. You probably own a smartphone and use it every
who wouldn't know a spreadsheet from a do-loop still make very casual
use of what is actually an enormously sophisticated piece of computing
hardware and software.
What would be the
most mind-blowing thing you could say about life today to someone from,
say, 1961? (That's when the 7094 first appeared.)
have, in my pocket, a computer that can instantly access the entire
accumulated knowledge of mankind. I use it to argue with strangers and
look at pictures of cats.
The typical smartphone contains a phone, of course. But it
also has several modems: a mobile-data modem, a Wi-Fi modem, and a bluetooth modem. Oh
yeah, antennas for each too.
Here is a table of various measures of how the computing world has
evolved, using these three checkpoints in time.
a large business office, more than 1000 sq.ft.
most of a desk, more if you had a printer.
fits in a shirt pocket.
(factor of 1/50)
(factor of 10)
(factor of 250)
(factor of 4.3)
(factor of 1600)
(Well, maybe 10 MByte if you added the upgrade hard drive)
(factor of 400)
just add drives and reels
up to 720 KByte
up to 32 GByte
- Punched card input
- Printer output
- Keyboard input (mouse later)
- Text screen (25 lines x 80 characters) or...
- Graphic screen (320 x 200 pixels)
- Printer output
- Touch screen input and output (480 x 800 pixels)
- Microphone and speaker
- Wireless connections of various types
- Intertial position sensors.
course, a lot else has changed in the computing environment. Graphical
User Interfaces (GUI), the Internet, wireless bandwidth, and new computer languages to mention only
a few. But just the the raw numbers in the table are
stunning to me.
the record, I am composing this on a five-year-old desktop computer.
Its physical appearance is an update of the IBM PC ("update" meaning
things like 22" color monitor, DVD drives instead of floppies). I paid
about $600 for it new. And its specs are considerably better than the
smartphone for every number. (Quad-core 3GHz processor, 8GByte RAM,
1TeraByte internal drive, 500GByte USB drive for backup.) But the tiny
size of the phone, combined with its computing power, is stunning.
Yes, there were computers before the 7094, and
there will be more advances beyond the Tribute (there already have
been). The trend was there before the 7094, and appears to be
continuing into the future. These are just three snapshots of an
Last modified -- Dec 8, 2015