Friday, April 09, 2010

Ah memory

No, literally, memory. I remember, back in the day, when we got our first IBM PC. It's memory size was 128 KB. This was something of an anomaly at the time - many PC's were using 64 KB, and as a kid only interested in games and very rudimentary programming, I couldn't see the point of all that extra space. I would much rather have had a graphics card (yes, at the time "graphics cards" were optional, and very expensive). Later on we went to 256 KB and boy, we were just out of our minds with memory. One thing I do remember is that my dad set up a RAM Disk, meaning that a logical disk that was stored wholly in memory, as opposed to floppy disks or (later) hard disks - we used this for PC Write, our very very advanced word processing program, which then did go insanely fast (by the standards of the day).

So let's put that in normal numbers. Roughly
64KB = 54,000 bytes
128 KB = 128,000 bytes
256 KB = 256,000 bytes

Our next machine made the first machine look like a geriatric patient in the Olympics. It was a PC (clone) AT 10mhz. 10 Mhz was fast enough that it had to have a speed selector so we could tone it down to 6 or 8 if we needed to. And it came with 1 MB of memory. This was, again, an insane amount of memory at the time. It also came with SVGA graphics, (I'll reminisce about those another time). If we wanted any more memory we would have to buy another whole memory board. Not a stick, or even a card, a gigantic board of memory (about the size of a modern graphics card) which would have doubled us to 2 MB. Oh, I should also point out that we had an early hard drive on that PC, which had I believe 40MB of space.

So, in this machine we had:
1MB = 1,000,000 bytes

Many years later I upgraded this machine to a custom built IBM PC- SX2-50, a 50 mhz monster with an onboard math coprocessor that was not integrated. I seem to recall having at first 2MB of memory and then 4 MB. At the time, using anything over 640KB or memory required software extension programs that were a pain in the ass. XMS and EMS were rearing their ugly heads. So to put this in more perspective:

2MB = 2,000,000 bytes
4MB = 4,000,000 bytes

And the operating systems weren't even designed to work with that huge amount of memory.

To tell you the truth, the systems kind of lump together in my own memory after that point. I think because I was out of the age of buying a new computer every 5 years (and as a result getting to know that computer, and its limitations, very very well) and into the age of buying, or, more often, upgrading my machine every few years. I know that Windows 95 required, optimally, at least 8 MB of memory (8,000,000 bytes) and that Windows 98 preferred 24 MB (24,000,000 bytes), and Windows XP prefers at least 128 MB (128,000,000 bytes0. I remember running between 256 and 512 MB for a while. Then when I went to XP we must have jumped up to 1MB. So we had things like:

512 MB = 512,000,000 bytes.
1GB = 1,000,000,000 bytes

So currently all the systems that I've built have 4GB of memory (I think LB2TR may have more, but I can't recall and I'm still in FL so can't look it up). As previously posted, my M-in-Law's pc was darn near unusable with 512MB. So let's put this all together a bit:

64,000 bytes
128,000 bytes (first PC)
256,000 bytes
1,000,000 bytes
(40,000,000 bytes = first hard drive)
2,000,000 bytes
4,000,000 bytes
512,000,000 bytes
1,000,000,000 bytes (M-in-law's new configuration)
4,000,000,000 bytes (current systems; limit for 32 bit OS)

One of the things 64 bit OS's such as Windows Vista and 7, and 64 bit Linux, are able to do is access memory over the 4MB limit, so people can build machines that use, for example, 16GB of RAM (16,000,000,000 bytes). Now I'm not even going into the onboard video memory for modern graphics cards (which can have a few GB of memory all to themselves).

So why go through all this crap (or, as you're asking yourself now, "Why am I reading this?!"). I suppose because this is as good a way as any to consider how truly exponential the growth of computing capability has been in the past 3 decades (Note to imagined critical readers: I say that because I've only been involved in it for that long, I know it's been going on longer than that). Our first, very expensive, and at the time HUGE, hard drive could hold less than 8% of the 512 MB of RAM that I was spitting on when I saw my M-in-law's system. And the price? Well let's just say the 1GB (1,000,000,000 bytes) of memory I bought for my M-in-law cost less than half what it would have cost to add that extra MB (1,000,000 bytes) or memory to our old 12 Mhz system.

And the final point of all of this: it's no wonder that I get my M's and G's mixed up in blog posts! *wink*.

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