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Computer History

TeletypeA lot has happened in the 44 years since I wrote my first program on a PDP-8...

To illustrate the development: In 1989 I wrote a C program which computes a perfect minimal hash table given a fixed set of keywords. (Based on an article by Richard J. Cichelli in CACM January 1980.) The interesting point with this is that I still have the program, and I have run the same test suite on most machines that have come in my way, starting with a Vax 750 and a DEC 2060 (which were old, but still around when I wrote the program). The test case which took the longest to run still takes measurable time. A few examples of running times (minutes:seconds) over the years:

Vax 11/750Vax
DECSYSTEM 2060PDP-1016:20.1
Sun 3/1606802011:22.2
Apollo DN3500680306:27.9
HP 9000/820HPPA3:33.3
SPARCstation 2sparc1:46.4
SPARCsystem 630/M41sparc50.2
SPARCstation 5sparc25.6
SGI IndigoMIPS12.9
PCPentium II 450MHz4.3
iBookPPC G3 700MHz1.8
MacBook ProIntel Core 2 Duo 2.2GHz0.5
MacBook ProIntel Core i7, 2.5GHz0.2

Note that this is a CPU bound program which uses very little memory and does no disk I/O. The timings do not necessarily show the different systems' overall performance. For example, the DECSYSTEM 2060 could handle 50-100 users, or more, a magnitude more than the faster (in this benchmark) Sun 3/160 could handle.

If I try to estimate the year of different machines (not exactly the ones above - the full list is about 30 machines) and plot a graph, you get something like this:

Benchmark graph

From half an hour to half a second in about 25 years, not bad. :)

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