Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Then and now– advances in tech*

Two things happened yesterday that caused me to think about just how far we’ve progressed in the field of technology. One: I paid $22 for a little thing — the size of my pinkie’s nail — that will hold roughly 500 songs when I pop it into its slot on my portable media player (namely, a 2 GB “micro SD card”). And, two: on a whim, I fired up my old Pentium II machine and wreaked havoc as the Original Digital Bad Boy — Duke Nukem (3D.. of course), the game that got me hooked on computer games way back in the days when dinosaurs still roamed the planet.

My Pentium II was made by a company that no longer exists, but it looks much the same as computers do today… a clunky box. The first thing I noticed when I looked at it was it has a floppy drive as its top-most component.. which is an indication of how important floppies were. A CD “burner” back in the days of the Pentium II cost about $1,500-$10,000, and so we mere citizens used CD-ROMs to install programs, and floppies to store and transfer data.
A “good” (and expensive) floppy held 1.44 Megabytes (and were 3 ½ inches square). We liked floppies because they were small, and we could carry them around in our pockets.
floppy.jpg microsdchip.jpg

And this “oh, yeah. I remember..” moment caused me to do a little math. Mega, in computing, means “million” — or 1,000,000 for those of you visually-oriented folks.
A Giga is a thousand times more than a Mega, and means “billion” — or 1,000,000,000.
So the 3 ½” floppy holds 1,440,000 bytes (approx), and the so-small-you-WILL-lose-it Micro SD chip holds 2,000,000,000 bytes (approx).


Hmmm… that’s quite a bit more than the floppy. Almost 2,000 times more. In much less space. (I would be curious, tho am not going to take the time myself, to learn the percentage of shrinkage from a floppy to a flash chip. Volunteers?)

This impessive math calculation led me to think about my Pentium II a little more. It is called a “P-II” because this represented a new kind of CPU (now called “generations”), and my particular P-II is a mid-line model that runs at 333 MegaHertz… which was pretty typical for the time. Back in those days, everything (except hard drives) was measured in “Mega”.

I won’t bore you with clock-cycles and how CPUs function, (Wikipedia has an extensive description. If you’re interested, click here) but essentially what is important (to know) is that a CPU performs its “work” on each “tick” of a cycle — and so, my P-II cycles (“ticks”) 333,000,000 times per second.
Which is durned fast!

Since I was in a now-and-then comparison frame of mind, I thought about my most recently purchased PC. Its CPU cycles at 2.8 GigaHertz.. or, 2,800,000,000 times per second. Clearly, this is quite a bit faster than the P-II can work.
But that’s not the only difference: my new CPU is smaller than the P-II, has twice as many “data paths”, and (and this is a real kick in the head, if you think on it) is actually TWO CPUs. (And the quad-core generation has now arrived.)
A little simple math (not wholely accurate, or relevent) would indicate that the newer processor is 37.3 times more “powerful” — each cycle — than the P-II.
As an analogy, if the P-II was a decent automobile of its day, and did 65 MPH — the decent automobiles today do 2,427 MPH.. roughly, Mach 3.5.
Today, everything (except hard drives will soon be “tera”) is measured in “Giga”.

This thought process led me to another thought: why isn’t my newer computer zipping along at three times the speed of sound? Sure, it is much quicker at tasks than my old P-II, but…

The answer is multi-faceted and complex, but basically it boils down to “multitasking” and the fact that our programs are so much LARGER (and have more “features”) than programs were back in the P-II days. As our hard drives and RAM chips got bigger, so did our word processing and spreadsheet programs. In fact, our programs, today, have “bloated” until they are simple huge and contain features and functions we never use. And version 2.0 is always bigger than 1.0 was.
I would like to see a movement away from this, but it’ll never happen — why buy CoolProgram 2008 if it doesn’t “do more” than CoolProgram 2006 does?

Well, enough of these musings. I have obligations to run off to today. I apologize for there being no “Tip of the day” or “Today’s free link” today… but things here will return to normal very shortly.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix


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June 16, 2008 Posted by | computers | 4 Comments