Not Your Grandfathers Smartphone

Not Your Grandfather’s Smartphone – Technology Advances

There are times I think that we take for granted the advances in technology that we have seen over the past several decades.  The current generations might not be able to appreciate, or even comprehend, the complexity of early computer technology that got us to the point we are at today.  There was a time when a “computer” was used to reference an individual who preformed complex mathematical calculations, before the days of even the first mammoth devices.  The introduction of electronic processors blew the minds of many simply by the size alone.  It is safe to say that technology has come a long way since then.

The use of vacuum tubes in early computers is quite significant.  One of the first computing devices was the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) which started development in 1937 and used over 300 vacuum tubes.  300 is nothing compared to the ENIAC which contained 17,468 vacuum tubes.  The top prize for most vacuum tubes used in a computer system goes to the AN/FSQ-7 (Whirlwind II).  This computer system was used in the SAGE Project and reportedly contained over 100,000 vacuum tubes in 2 computers, housed in a 4 story building.  Due to the heat generated they had air conditioning systems running 24/7.  Hundreds of vacuum tubes required replacement each day and maintenance was a full time job.  Now days a tube computer is a relic hardly recognizable to today’s generations if it wasn’t for Star-Trek and Lost In Space reruns.

How does today’s technology compare to that of 1957 computer technology?  Bradford-delong.com wrote a comparative to prove how far we have truly advanced by comparing the iPhone X today vs had it built in 1957.  We hope you find this as entertaining as we did.


Do “They” Really Say: “Technological Progress Is Slowing Down”?

Apple

Consider the 256 GB memory iPhone X: Implemented in vacuum tubes in 1957, the transistors in an iPhoneX alone would have:

  • cost 150 trillion of today’s dollars: one and a half times today’s global annual product
  • taken up a hundred-story square building 300 meters high, and 3 kilometers long and wide
  • drawn 150 terawatts of power—30 times the world’s current generating capacity

iPhoneX:

  • 4.3 billion transistors in the A-11 https://www.apple.com/iphone-8/#a11
  • 2,199,023,255,552 bits in the 256 GB memory—each of which needs a transistor (and a capacitor)
  • Let’s say 2.5 trillion transistors…
  • And you can buy 256 GB of memory for $100—of which, say, 1/4 is the cost of a transistor.
  • So, say, 125 dollars’ worth of transistors in an iPhoneX

How much would it have cost you to buy a vacuum tube sixty years ago, back in 1957?

  • Well, in 1959 you could buy a one-byte—8-bit—Phister 366 for 65 dollars http://jcmit.net/memoryprice.htm
  • So, say, 8 dollars a bit.
    • 8 dollars in 1957 is 60 dollars today via the GDP deflator https://www.measuringworth.com/
    • 8 dollars in 1957 is 160 dollars today as a share of U.S. nominal GDP per capita
    • 8 dollars in 1957 is 320 dollars today as a share of U.S. nominal GDP

Vacuum Tube Assembly

The transistors in an iPhoneX would, back in the late 1950s, implemented in vacuum tubes, have:

  • cost 150 trillion of today’s dollars, which is:
    • one and a half times today’s global annual product,
    • more than seven times today’s U.S. annual national product
    • forty times 1957’s U.S. national product
    • fourteen times 1957’s global annual product
  • taken up 100 billion square meters of floor space
    • that is (with a three-meter ceiling height per floor): a hundred-story square building 300 meters high, and 3 kilometers long and wide
  • drawn 150 terawatts of power—30 times the world’s current generating capacity

Oh. And clock speed. The AN/FSQ-7 operated at 75khz. The A-11 is a 6-core 24 mhz processor:

  • 2000 100 billion square meter buildings, each a hundred-stories—300 meters high—and 3 kilometers long and wide
  • 3000 times today’s global annual product
  • 300 petawatts of power—60,000 time sthe world’s currnet generating capacity

for the late-1950s vacuum tubes to match one iPhoneX…

And we haven’t even gotten started on the hardware architecture, or on the software and maintenance support necessary to emulate an iPhoneX at speed back in the late 1950s…


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Originally published September 15,2017 by Bradford-delong.com see their website for more tech articles.

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