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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

Bench Talk


Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics

Stunning Increases in Processing Explained for Normal Humans Barry Manz

Intel founder Gordon Moore’s “Law” has gained legendary status for its prescience and ability to stand the test of time. What’s not so apparent is what this has translated into from the perspective of the devices in which processors are used. Fortunately, the number-crunchers at Experts Exchange[i] have taken the time to determine the 1-trillion-fold increase in processing power between 1956 and 2015 and present it in simple terms.

Specifically, they compared the processing power of various computers and devices such as smartphones and game consoles over six decades, measured in floating-point operations per second. Processing power terms like these are tough to fathom so here are some comparisons:

• GigaFLOP: One billion floating-point operations per second (FLOPS)
• TeraFLOP: One trillion FLOPS
• PetaFLOP: One quadrillion FLOPS

In 1961, the cost per GigaFLOP using commercially-available devices was $1.1 trillion ($8.3 trillion in 2013 dollars). Today it’s 8 cents.

The Cray-2 supercomputer from Cray Research peaked at 1.9 GLOPS and was the fastest computer in the world when it was introduced in 1985. Credit: Wikipedia

Getting back to our comparisons, the iPhone 5 has 2.7 times the processing power of a Cray-2 supercomputer (circa 1985). Comparing apples to apples, the Cray delivered 1.9 GigaFLOPS and had a CPU speed of 244MHz while the iPhone 4S, the predecessor to the 5S processes at 1.6 GigaFLOPS with a clock rate of 800MHz. So one Cray 2 equals one iPhone 4S, which fits neatly in a pocket or purse. The Cray 2 required a good-sized room. Also in 1985, Nintendo introduced the Nintendo Entertainment System, which has half the power of the guidance system used to control Apollo 11, which achieved the first manned lunar landing.

Another interesting comparison is between the Nintendo Wii game system and the Sony Smartwatch 2. The original Wii has a graphics processor capable of 12 GigaFLOPS compared to the Smartwatch’s 2, a CPU speed of 729 MHz versus 1.2 GHz for quad-core Smartwatch processor, and both have 512 Mbytes of RAM. And one Apple Watch has the performance of two iPhone4s smartphones. The watch cranks out 3 GigaFLOPS compared to the phone’s 1.6 GigaFLOPS using a 1-GHz dual core processor (the phone used a single-core 800-MHz processor.)

And for a grand finale, the researchers compared the world’s fastest supercomputer (twice as fast as Titan, its nearest competitor), the Tianhe-2 supercomputer created by the National Supercomputer Center in Guangzhou, China, to the PlayStation 4S. Obviously, the supercomputer wins by a landslide but by just how much shows what can be achieved today with massively-parallel processing power.

Today’s supercomputing champion is China’s Tianhe-2, double the performance of its nearest competitor. Credit: Wikipedia

The Tianhe-2 delivers a blistering 33.86 petaFLOPS using 33,800 Intel Xeon processors and 48,000 Xeon Phi processors with a collective 3.12 million cores, and the PlayStation a nevertheless-impressive 1.84 TeraFLOPS using a 1.6-GHz eight-core processor. The Tianhe-2 has 1.4 PetaBytes of RAM to the Playstation’s 8 Gbytes. So by Expert Exchange’s calculations, one Tianhe-2 is equal to 18,400 PlayStation 4S systems. Of course, the PlayStation 4S costs $349 at a big box store (the Tianhe-2 costs $390 million), runs on common house line voltage at 120-VAC (versus the 17.6MW consumed by the supercomputer), and fits in an entertainment center. The Tianhe-2…well, look at the picture.

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Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., a technical media relations agency he founded in 1987. He has since worked with more than 100 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, test and measurement, semiconductor, embedded systems, lightwave, and other markets. Barry writes articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. He is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.

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