Tuesday 9 March 2010

Moore's the Merrier

While at university in London in June 1992, I was looking to buy a cheap PC. I strolled up and down Tottenham Court Road getting quotes. The one I almost bought was from Morgan Computer Company (which is still operating in some guise):
  • Intel 80386SX 16MHz, 2MB RAM, 50MB hard disk
  • DOS 5.0, Windows 3, Microsoft Works
  • Keyboard and mouse
  • Hyundai colour VGA monitor
All for £685 plus VAT. I ended up sticking with my BBC Micro Model B.

Last month, I bought a new PC (for the first time in almost a decade) from Overclockers UK, an upgraded "Titan Raptor":
  • AMD Athlon II Quad Core 2.8GHz, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard disk, Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5870 1GB graphics card
  • Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, Microsoft Office Home & Student 2007
  • Keyboard, mouse and 300Mbps Wi-fi card
  • Samsung P2350 23" LCD monitor
All for £1155 plus VAT.

So, in almost eighteen years, the CPU clock speed has grown 179-fold (716-fold if simplistically factoring in multiple cores), the RAM 4096-fold and the hard disk capacity over 20,000-fold. Inflation means that £685 in 1992 is worth about £1082 in today's terms. Wikipedia's entry on Moore's Law suggests that "bang for buck" doubles every two years, or about 500 times since June 1992.

At first glance, the CPU clock speed increase seems the least spectacular, but I guess you should factor in the additional co-processors: the on-chip FPU units and high-end GPU for a start.

But by far the largest increase has come in terms of storage. I started programming on a ZX81 in 1981 with a whopping 1KB of RAM (it could still play chess though!) I've just bought a computer with over nine million times more RAM and a terabyte of disk space. In 1981, a terabyte was just a hypothetical unit bandied about by futurists.

So, what's my new PC like? Well, the ZX81 booted more quickly.

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