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Visualizing the Trillion-Fold Increase in Computing Power

On July 20, 1969, millions of people received an inspirational jolt from watching two brave astronauts take humankind’s first steps on the moon. Rightly so, those astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, are now household names to many – however, their Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) remains the unsung hero that made their moon landing possible in the first place.

With processing power equivalent to a pair of Nintendo consoles, the AGC wasn’t flashy. But despite its technical limitations, the AGC functioned admirably as the interface for guidance, navigation, and control of the spacecraft to get humans to their first lunar destination.

To Infinity and Beyond?

If a pair of Nintendo consoles can get us to the moon, there’s no telling what the future may hold as computing power continues to grow.

Today’s infographic comes to us from Experts Exchange, and it visualizes the 1 trillion-fold increase in computing performance from 1956 to 2015.

Visualizing the Trillion-Fold Increase in Computing Power

The Incredible Shrinking Hard Disk

In the 1970s, data storage equipment was serious business. The IBM 305 RAMAC, for example, weighed a ton and measured 16 square feet. The RAMAC’s storage capacity? Just 5MB.

Thankfully, hard disks are no longer the size of filing cabinets. The animation below visualizes just how compact terabytes of storage have become.

Hard Drive Disc Comparison

Computing in the Real World

A relatable touchpoint for many people will be ever-changing graphics quality of video games.

The journey from Atari’s pixelated stick figures to today’s crisp, hyper-realistic graphics is a surprisingly good visual aid to help us understand increases in computing power over many years.

NHL EA Sports Graphics

The journey from Pong to Call of Duty is inexorably linked to processing power. As the comprehensive list below demonstrates, modern gaming systems are so powerful that even the revolutionary Xbox 360 now looks quaint in comparison.

YEARMFLOPSCONSOLE
19760Fairchild Channel F (Pong)
19770Atari 2600
19830NES
19860Atari 7800
19880Sega Genesis
19900SNES
19910Sega CD
19940Sony PlayStation
19940Sega Saturn
1996200Nintendo 64
20006,200Sony PlayStation 2
2005240,000Xbox 360
2006459,200Sony PlayStation 3
20131,228,800Xbox One
20131,843,200Sony PlayStation 4

Our ExaFLOP Future

Though performance drivers are flattening out, supercomputing continues to hit new milestones. The next one on the list is exascale computing – and at that level, machines will be capable of a million-trillion calculations a second.

Why do we even need computers that powerful? For one, some of the biggest challenges facing humankind are extremely complicated, and we just don’t have the computing power to tackle them as effectively as we could. Two relevant examples are climate modeling and life sciences.

All these advances are pushing us closer to a major symbolic milestone: computers as powerful and complex as the human brain.

Computer Brain Exascale

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