The ENIAC computer was switched on in 1946 and thus began the information revolution. It had a CPU clock speek of 100 kHz (100,000 machine cycles per second) and a proto-ALU that could perform a (then) staggering 357 multiplications per second or 35 division operations with an operational uptime of around 50%.
The original form factor, weighed in at 30 tons, and stood an impressive 8 feet tall, 100 feet long and 3 feet deep. It set the US Army back an estimated six million bucks in today's money.
Ten years later IBM released the 305 RAMAC introducing the worlds first commercially available Hard Disk Storage System. It was considerably smaller than the ENIAC, 30 foot by 50 foot, the hardrive taking up a further 16 square foot for a capacity of around 5 Megs.
For all it's diminutive stature, it could out think the Eniac by a factor of about 10 and, more importantly, it could commit it's instructions and the results of it's calculations, to memory. It retailed for $100,000 or leased for $3500 a month. All in 1000 units shipped before it became obsolete in 1962
Ten years later HP entered the computer market with it's "go-anywhere, do-anything" 2116a. This tiny device could fit comfortably in a small office. Integrated chips had by now replaced the vacuum valves of previous generations and the latest and latest and greatest machines could now store tens of thousands of instructions and values in true 16 bit registers. Churning out calculations to in the order of tens of thousands per second.
The 2116a was one of these machines and you could have one delivered to your place of business for between $25,000 and $50,000, depending on options and upgrades.
Three years later the P3nT4gR4m MkI Biocomputational Device was released. None sold so far.
Seven years later Apple created the Apple I and sold it, in kit form, to home users. This was around the birth of personal computing but it's a bit unfair to compare the specs of what was essentially a whole new sub-revolution so lets stay with the business sphere for a little longer and give this fledgeling platform a little time to mature, shall we?
The pinnacle of business in '76 was the Cray I. It was a big bugger at 58 cubic feet and weighing in around 2.5 tons but by fuck it was fast. 166 million floating-point operations per second fast. One of these bad boys would set you back a cool $10 million but at least you had the option of more reasonably priced, albeit significantly less powerful alternatives
Ten years later IBM Released their first Laptop. At $2000 a pop, it came with a quarter of a megabyte of RAM and an 80c88 processor clocked at 4.7 MHz and portable at a smidegon under 6 kilos on the scales but I'm comparing apples and oranges again what else was happening?
Well, since 76 we were fast approaching the end of Mainframes, with minis and superminis Like the IBM 6150 arriving on the scene. Supporting multiple "dumb terminal" users, all vying for compute cycles at the timeslice trough. 16 Megabytes of RAM and a 300 Meg Hard Drive, these shrunk the average mainframe room into a form factor resembling a modern desktop PC on steroids. It performed a couple of hundred thousand floating point operations per second.
Ten years later Intel released their 6th generation Pentium. Remember the first picture I posted, the old B&W one with the room full of wires and flashy lights? Well the picture above is the equivalent of several million of those. Five and a half million transistors in all, squeezed down to a little square slab of silicon about the size of your fingernail. Instructions per second? 500-odd million.
Ten years later Intel Core 2 Extreme - 49,161 Million instructions carried out, to the letter, every second.
In other news, computation has spawned a new platform - the Smartphone which, contrary to the name, has very little to do with telephony and is in fact an ultra-portable mobile computing platform.