Computer Memories

Updated: Aug 24

In 1981 IBM produced the first commercially successful Personal Computer. It ran MS-DOS as an operating system (Windows had not even been conceived of yet) and was quite expensive. I had to have one so I invested about $3,000 in one and started a business which changed my career.

That huge amount of money bought me 8,000 bytes of RAM (expandable to a meager 64,000 bytes), a text-only monochrome monitor and two "floppy" drives which could store 360,000 bytes of data each. I was on my way!

A side note: That tiny 64KB RAM limit became troublesome quickly. Computer manufacturers had to come up with ways to put in more RAM but "fool" the computer into thinking there was no more than the 64KB DOS limit. I remember Bill Gates being interviewed about the RAM limit imposed in MS-DOS (which he wrote for IBM instead of finishing college). He said that up until then no one had ever needed more than 8KB, so he decided to just square that to allow for future needs. LOL! Current computers need MILLIONS of times that limit to operate.

A year later my stacks of 5 1/4 inch floppy disks were growing and I decided to upgrade to a hard disk drive. For $1,000 I purchased a drive that could store 10 million bytes of data! All this magic miniaturization was stimulated by sending men to the Moon a decade earlier - a venture that put size and weight at a premium.

Fast forward to the year 2020. I've retired from the business I built with my first PC. Now at 67 years old I am, for the first time, building my next PC myself. It's quite thrilling. The RAM I have purchased for my new supercomputer is physically about 10 times the size of the RAM my first PC. But this RAM stores EIGHT MILLION times as much data: 64 Gigabytes! And of course it costs less than 64 Kilobytes of RAM cost 35 years ago.

The CPU is undoubtedly the most magnificent advancement. Going from in Intel 8086 in the first IBM PC to today's latest Intel i9-10900K involves leaps & bounds in technology which are way beyond my comprehension. One thing that helps me wrap my head around it is the massive cooler that must sit on top of this little chip to keep it from melting. This tiny wonder of a CPU occupies less than half a cubic inch of space. And yet it requires a cooler sitting atop it that is SEVEN HUNDRED times it's size!

Here is my CPU cooler sitting atop the CITY that is my "MoBo." That's computer-geek-cool for motherboard. There is so much thinking going on in that tiny microprocessor underneath the cooler, that the CPU will literally destroy itself without this behemoth to cool it. And I haven't even installed all of the fans yet. Besides the one you see attached to the front of the cooler, there will be SIX MORE fans in the case before I'm finished.

But now I want to get back to that 10 megabyte hard drive I bought 35 years ago for $1,000. It was about the size of a small shoe box. Here's a picture of what takes it's place today in my new computer (as well as my dog, Pogo):

This little thing is the size of a stick of gum and it holds ONE TERABYTE of data! That means this tiny new stick is equal to 100,000 old 10 megabyte drives! ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND of them!!!

Once I got to see the world's first modern computer: The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC. Here's a picture of me standing in front of it at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering, from which my daughter Emily graduated several years ago:

ENIAC took up 1,800 square feet of warehouse space and had over 17,000 vacuum tubes. When it was turned on in 1945 (a few years before I was born) it astounded the world by being able to perform 5,000 calculations per second!

The tiny microprocessor sitting under that big cooling fan in my new PC will perform BILLIONS of calculations per second!

That's how far we've progressed in the short span of my lifetime. My grandchildren are two and seven years old. What they will experience in their lifetimes is unimaginable to me.

These are the thoughts that go through my mind as I build my new computer. I hope it works.

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© 2020 by Tom Fisher