Friday, March 12, 2010

Rapid Obsolescence

It's amazing how far we've come, how fast, when it comes to computing power, just in personal computers, never mind the large servers we run our world with.

Moores law has proven to be true (with a few little hiccups) for an outrageous amount of time.

We've gone from the first real personal computer (the Apple II) in 1977, running at 1 megahertz, and 4kb of ram (up to 48kb with boards) for around $3,000 (with disk drive, monitor, printer, and ram); to the cheapest $300 computer you can buy today running at around 2 GIGAhertz (2000 times as fast), with 2 GIGAbytes of memory (21,000 times the memory)... or for $3,000, a computer with 8 processors, all running at 3 gigahertz, and 8gigabytes of memory (plus monitor, printer etc...).

I've got a lot of history here... I've been involved in personal computing from almost the very beginning (I got my first computer in 1981). Plus, I am a computer collector and rescuer. So I've got a pretty large and varied history as it were.

The first computer I ever had was a Tandy TRS80 model 1, with two 8" floppies; though I managed to snag a Commodore PET soon after.

The trash-80 was based on the Zilog Z80, running at 1.8mhz, and had been upgraded to a whole 32kb of RAM.

I then had a vic 20, a c64, a c128 and an amiga 500 (two of which we actually paid for, the 64 and the 128. The vic and the Amiga were handmedowns).

My first connectivity was through a 300, than a 2400 baud modem (a Hayes) for the C64.

In between there somewhere I snagged an Atart ST, and an Apple IIe. After that, the final Apple I had for a few years was a II-gs; which ran on a 2.8mhz cpu, with 1mb of ram.

When it was new, it cost $6,000 (including the upgraded memory, extra disk drive, monitor, and printer). I still had a 2400 baud modem for it, though there WERE 9600 baud modems becoming available at the time, there wasn't anywhere to use them.

I didn't get my first X86 pc until 1989; and it was the very first commercially available x86 laptop, the kaypro 2000. Unfortunately when I got it, it was already four years old, and beyond obsolete, but it was still very cool.

Oh and I still had a 2400 baud modem... actually, two: One Hayes external, and one built in to the Kaypro.

That was a seriously cool computer by the way. It presaged the docking station/laptop combo by years; and the construction quality on the thing was amazing (it was also HEAVY as hell, having a lead acid battery good for all of 45 minutes).

Of all the above, I got most of them second or third hand (though not all of them), from friends, relatives, school, work etc... The only ones I got brand new were the c64, the 128, the Amiga, and the IIe.

The first x86 system I actually bought new, wasn't until 1995; a pentium 166mmx, with 64mb ram (I ended up upgrading it to 256mb eventually). I tri-booted slackware, win '95, and NT on it.

It cost me $3400 (after a hard drive upgrade, RAM upgrade, monitor etc...) and my connectivity was a 28.8kbit modem, running cslip at 9600 through my university network.

I actually owned a UNIX workstation before I ever bought myself an X86 box; an IBM PowerPC workstation, that ran AIX and CDE. If I remember correctly, it had 256mb of ram, a 4gb hard drive, had a PPC604 that ran at 133mhz, and it cost me $3,000 after a HEAVY educational discount (the school had a purchase program that gave us 60% off retail). It also ran that same 9600 cslip.

Around the same time I got my first mac, a Quadra 800. I later got a PowerMac 8500. Both were around $6,000 new, when loaded up with memory (I got them for free).

I got my first UNIX ACCOUNT (vs. UNIX computer) in 1985; through a local college, as part of the ACE program (accelerated cognitive education). If I remember correctly it was on a HIGHLY hacked and upgraded PDP-11; but it was replaced shortly thereafter by a highly hacked and upgraded VAX 11/780. It was on a smart terminal on what I think was a 2400 baud serial line, but I don't remember.

I bought my first Sun box for personal use in the late 90s; a 4 cpu 200mhz hypersparc setup I bought in I THINK 1999 (after it was offically obsolete for like 4 years). I later upgraded to an ultra 10 (only nominally an upgrade. In reality less powerful than the Sparc20, but it ran newer software that wasn't supported on the 20), then an ultra 60.

At one point I even had a pair of e250s and a pair of e450s... but I didn't use them as computers, I used them as furniture. They made SPECTACULAR table legs when paired with a glass tabletop (yes, seriously I really did that).

I bought my first DEC alpha around 1996, a PWS 200. I only got rid of my last Alpha about two years ago (a workgroup server 800).

I bought my first SGI in 1996 or 1997, an Indy that I bought after it was obsoleted. I later upgraded to an O2 (I actually had four of them at once at one point, doing video work), and then an Octane.

Almost all of these high end systems ran from $5,000 to $20,000 when new... My Octane was $25,000 in 1998. I bought it in 2001 for less than $3,000. You can get them fully loaded with the R14000 (the last generations of MIPS chips used in SGI machines) for $2,000 today if you want one for some reason (they're still very good for video work).

Other than for that specialized video work though, an $800 laptop has more power.

Amazingly enough though, as of getting rid of my last Alpha two years ago, every computer I actually OWN is x86 (vs. the ones I work with, which are about 40% x86, the remainder of which are PA-RISC - or itanium running HP-UX... technically the itanium is x86 though... Sparc, and POWER).

Honestly, for workstation tasks, there's just no point to using anything else. I can (and do. I run OSX, Solaris, multiple Linux distros, and multiple windows versions) run just about any OS I want on the same architecture; and I get great power, great bandwidth, great memory handling, at such a low price, it just isn't worth buying anything else anymore.

Last month, I switched my primary PC from a high end desktop, to a LAPTOP.

The LAPTOP has four times the computing power the high end desktop did. It runs a quad core processor at 3 ghz, with 8gbs of ram and two 500gb hard drives....


Hell... My PHONE has more computing power than any computer I owned before 2001.

Aint it grand?