Super Computing: Then and Now

Dennis Faas's picture

There has been a lot of talk (and print) devoted to what is termed 'Super Computing'. The evolving of a PC from a slow running (but reliable) platform into a system that runs circles around the old PC-1.

Anyone remember those? IBM was responsible for unleashing the original PC on the unsuspecting business world back in the late '70s, early '80s. PC-1 was the very first PC and by today's standards, it is slow! 10 MHz processor speeds, a maximum of 64 KB memory, no hard drive, and a pair of 5.25, 360 KB diskette drives with a monochrome screen. It ran PC-DOS and a fairly wide array of applications intended for business use. It was intended to off-load the daily Office Productivity tasks from the big main frame computers that fill entire rooms and move those tasks to the desktop. Quite a concept.

But somewhere along the line, things got sidetracked! I doubt if there was any one thing that caused the change, but it shifted the PC from a business man's desktop into the home. And then the changes came rolling down the pike! Hard drives were miniaturized from a washing machine sized cabinet into a form that boggled the mind. Barely 5.25 inches across and 7 or 8 inches long was quite a change (several hundred pounds to a pound and a half). 10 MB was the common size and those of us that used them wondered just how we were going to fill 10 MB. We also wondered how all that room could be managed.

Boy! Have things changed!

If we were able to look forward in time (back then) to see today's PC, the term Super Computer would certainly be applicable in comparison. It's almost like trying to compare a bottle rocket to a Saturn V launch vehicle.

After little more than 20 years, today's PC loafs along at 3.6+ GHz with hard drive space in the Terabyte range (1000GB). System memory can hit an excess of 4 GB. And in terms of getting work done, these new systems are really bringing home the bacon, and for a price that is actually less than the original PC-1. Back in the day, we would have considered it to be a main frame on the top of a desk.

On top of all that, you find these 'Super Computers' in most homes, in schools from Elementary to College level, as well as businesses around the globe.

It used to be the Cray Super Computer that was the benchmark for pure computing power, but now, todays PC is quietly approaching the benchmark set by the venerable Cray. In fact, now, when the techies start talking about 'Super Computers', the next order of magnitude is just so amazing, it causes goose bumps to raise on my arms. AMD and Intel have been engaged in a contest of 'One-upmanship' that is driving the speeds higher and higher with the new dual core architecture processors and the 64-bit systems push things even further. Memory manufacturers are pushing the capacity envelope to the max. Data transfer rates are reaching insanely high 106+ Gigabytes per second range.

And here we are, standing on the threshold looking in the door in total awe at what we are seeing. I'm just wondering if we know what to do with all that power. Game players will love it, thats for sure. I'm beginning to wonder what the NEXT generation of 'Super Computers' will look like!

To be honest, it really doesn't matter what Operating System you use on one of these speedsters, Windows, Linux, UNIX, or even MacOS X for Intel, a supercomputer is still awesome!

It's going to be fun, folks!

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