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Processing Power Sees Drastic Increase In Performance Since 1956

May 17, 2015 - Written By Cory McNutt

Technology is like a runaway freight train – moving so fast that if we compare processing power from 1956 to 2015, it has increased a trillion-fold in those six decades!  True, we are not yet living in the era of the ‘Jetsons’ with flying cars and conveyor belts to cart us from bed, shower us and dress us, but the power in our gaming consoles and smartphones is almost unbelievable when compared to the computers of our past.  This latest infographic does comparisons between ‘then’ and ‘now’ so we can appreciate exactly what we hold in our hands each time we pick up our smartphone or turn-on our gaming consoles.

To keep the comparisons easy to understand and not having to take in account differences in microarchitectures, they looked at the processors’ FLOPS – Floating Operations Per Second.  Some older readers may remember Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel when he predicted in 1956 that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit would double every two years.  This ‘Moore’s law’ is the reason that we can carry around smartphones that are more powerful than the supercomputers of the 1980’s that took up entire rooms – very amazing when you think about it.  Not that we are promoting the iPhone by any means – it is just the one they chose for this comparison – but an iPhone 4 has 2.7 times the processing power of the 1985 Cray-2 Supercomputer.  Back in 1985, when Seymour Cray was designing his Supercomputers, another company released its first Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) – that original NES contain half the processing power as the one that sent the Apollo spacecraft to the moon!

The design of computer chips is amazing when you consider that they not only becoming more powerful, but also are decreasing in size.  These continued advancements are allowing engineers to stretch the boundaries of our imaginations, doing things we never thought possible 40 years ago.  Nobody would believe that the power of a computer that once took up a city block can now be held in the palm of your hand.  The new Samsung Galaxy S6 has the processing power of five (5) PlayStation 2s and the Sony Smartwatch 3 has the processing power of a Nintendo Wii.

Below is an infographic that compares the processing power between devices and helps us to realize the magnitude of scientific progress.  Looking at chart with one billion FLOPS we see that the Apple Watch performs about 7 billion FLOPS, the iPhone 6 about 12 billion, the Sony Smartwatch 3 is at 8 billion, Samsung Galaxy SIII at 12 billion, the Nexus 5 at 17 billion, the LG G3 at almost 20 billion and the Samsung Galaxy S6 is at whopping 34 billion FLOPS. Maybe next time we pick up our smartphone, we will appreciate the technology we are holding in our hands.

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