Out of curiosity, I went looking to see how the computing power of a typical smartphone compared with the big computers of the past. I found this:
The results were pretty impressive. Now, some of the numbers they cite in that article I question because I saw different numbers elsewhere. Still, it was a starting point.
One measure of computing power is the number of “floating point operations” the computer can perform per second (“flops”), often in millions per second (MFlops) or billions per second (GFlops).
ENIAC, the first general purpose programmable computer, could do about 500 flops.
One of the first supercomputers was Atlas. Because of the way it worked, performance measurements are difficult but a floating point multiply (typical floating point operation) took 4.97 microseconds so call it 0.2 MFlops.
The IBM 7090, used to calculate Mercury and Gemini orbits, could do 0.1 MFlops.
In 1966, working for CDC, Seymore Cray designed the CDC 6600. This computer ran at a dizzying (for the time) 3 MFlops.
A few years later, in 1969, he did it again with the CDC 7600 cranking out results at 10 MFlops.
The Apollo moon landings were handled from the ground with a handful of IBM 360 computer, each capable of about 1 MFlop of performance.
Remember Seymore Cray, behind those CDC computers above? Well, he left CDC in 1971 to form his own company. And he made a big splash in 1976 with the Cray 1 supercomputer, the fastest in the world at the time at 160 MFlops.
Soon, Cray was back with the Cray X-MP at 200 MFlops in 1983
The Cray 2 broke the Giga-flop barrier in 1985 with 1.9 GFlops, followed quickly by the Cray Y-MP in 1988 with up to 2.6 GFlops.
For comparison let’s look at personal computers.
In 1990 the 486DX-33 could crunch numbers at a rate of 50 MFlops, making it more powerful than the computers that ran the Apollo moon landings and faster than those early CDC supercomputers.
In 1996, a Pentium 200 could perform at 200 MFlops making it faster than that first Cray supercomputer.
By 2004, a Pentium 4-520 was doing 5.6 GFlops, and we’re already past the Cray 2 and Y-MP.
Today, my smartphone according to one test does just over 4 GFlops and my laptop computer, does 74.5 GFlops.
A lot of power to look at cat videos and argue with strangers on the Internet. 😉