3:25:13 Moore's Law

My first computer, an Apple IIe cost about $1,800. I think memory serves me right when I say it was $1,400 for the IIe system (included keyboard and monitor) and $400 for the DuoDisk floppy disk stacked drives. This was the early 80s.

Carver Mead at Cal Tech came up with Moore's Law (which, in turn, interprets a remark by one of the founders of Intel, Gordon Moore). The Law says that the number of transistors (or logic elements) in an integrated circuit doubles every two years. A corollary commonly made is that the cost of computing is halved every two years.

If the two-year benchmark applies for Moore's Law, then I'd expect to get 32,768 (2 ^ 15) times the computing for each dollar 30 years later.


How have I done?

The specs for my Apple IIe were as follows:

CPU speed of the 65C02 chip: 2Mhz
RAM: 128K
Storage: two 128K floppy disk drives or 256K

This week I bought a complete laptop computer (the 7-inch screen defines it as a netbook) for $92.99 + $2.99 for shipping. A sub-$100 computer. The box this no-name computer came in says, "7" Notebook"--not Netbook?--and "Made in China," but no manufacturer's name). A WM8850 chip runs Android 4.0. A plus was the American distributor and two-day delivery.

Okay, so the new computer cost 1/19th what my Apple IIe cost. How about specs?

CPU speed: 1.5GHz. or about 750 times faster than the Apple IIe.
RAM is 1 Gb or about 8,000 times the Apple IIe.
On-board storage is 4 Gb or about 16,000 times the Apple IIe.
In place of external floppy drives I can use SD cards or a USB flashdrive that can increase storage by some multiple of 4 Gb.

You get the idea, despite its dimunitive size, the no-name notebook/netbook has a lot more computing power, for a lot less money. In bits moved per buck, the no-name has roughly 15,000 times the performance of the Apple IIe. Note that I am only considering the respective CPU chips in this examination of Moore's Law (the CPU chip being probably most indicative of the silicon foundry progress of which Mr. Moore spoke).

How does that fit in with Moore's Law and the passage of 30 years?

An increase of 15,000 times is not the 32,768 times Moore's Law predicts, but it's in the ballpark for these two modest computer systems. The gain of 15,000 times, in fact, represents a doubling over 28 years and I think I actually bought the Apple IIe 29 years ago--seriously. As one can see, Moore's Law, describing one of the most persistent technological phenomenon of our times, has been an invaluable insight for gauging the pace of the information age.

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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

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