Memory memories -- 07/24/02

Memory memories? Yes, thinking about memory, computer memory to be exact.

This is prompted by Wendy's July 23rd entry where she talked about upgrading the memory on her Dell laptop.It's like the proverbial piece of wisdom: "You can't be too rich or too thin or have too much RAM."

Of course I can remember how excited (I was working for Binghamton University) we were when we upgraded our 370-158 mainframe from two megabytes to two and a half megabytes!

What a difference twenty-six years can make. (And just how quickly those twenty-six years can zip by!)

So now Wendy has 320 Megabytes on her laptop.

There are four computers currently in our house, five if you count the ThinkPad I lug back and forth from home to office.
  • Nancy's Aptiva -- the oldest computer still functioning here -- with twenty-four Megabytes of RAM and a two Gigabyte hard drive. Those numbers had seemed so impressive when we ordered it. It still functions just fine for Nancy who uses it for Internet searching, email, and word processing, such typing up tests and handouts for classes. (High speed cable internet access, connected via our home LAN, as are Sean's and Jennifer's computers as well.)
  • Sean's Aptiva -- the former family computer -- originally 128 Mb, but upgraded this past winter to 256Mb (also originally 12 Gb drive, upgraded last year to 40 Gb).
  • Jennifer's Aptiva -- her high school graduation present two years ago -- 128 Mb RAM. (Yes, there is a certain pattern here, easily explained by employee discounts.)
  • Jennifer's Dell laptop -- which she purchased earlier this month -- 512 Mb RAM and 40 GB hard drive.
  • My T23 ThinkPad notebook -- yes, actually my employer's machine -- with one Gigabyte of RAM (yes, 1024 Mb) and a 48 Gb hard drive.
It boggles my mind to think that the oldest computer in our house, one that is practically obsolete, has more memory that IBM 370/158 mainframe. Not just that, but it actually has more physical memory than that mainframe's operating system could even address. (OS/VS1 could address a maximum of 16 Mb of memory.) That mainframe had eight IBM 3330 disk drives -- each one a box about the size of a clothes dryer with the disks being a stack of a dozen or more (can't remember exactly -- *sigh* -- so much for memories of memory) platters, each larger than a 33rpm record (an analogy which only makes sense for those of you old enough to remember vinyl records instead of CDs). Each one of those stacks of platters could hold one hundred Megabytes of data. Those eight drives combined could hold a total of 800 Mb of data, or, as we would inform visitors touring the university's computer center on Parent Weekend, eight hundred million characters, the equivalent of perhaps one or two thousand books! (That always generated gasps of awe.) So my laptop has sixty times the disk storage of a major university computer center and has more than four hundred times the RAM.

My CD drive is also a CD burner, so I could store on one CD more data than six of those very expensive 3330 disk drives could hold. I recently bought a package of one hundred blank CD-Rs for a bit over thirty dollars plus tax and then mailed in a twenty dollar rebate form... so my net cost is probably about fifteen cents per CD. Moore's Law... absolutely amazing.

(And then stop to think about how much cheaper CDs are than cassette tapes and wonder why record companies are still able to get away with charging more for music on CD than on cassette.)

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