Awasu » Running rings around your cell-phone
Monday 19th August 2013 7:45 PM [General]

I always enjoy reading Dadhacker's posts. He's pretty hard-core technical and has been cutting code for even longer than me (but only by a few years)!

He recently wrote about a piece of hardware junk he found in someone's basement recently. Well, not quite, it was actually one of the very first Cray super-computers ever made, serial #3 actually 🙂

One of the computing center staff was walking by when I took this picture. He said that they have one in a museum in London that is roped off. When he remarked to one of the curators there that "Ours is better" they asked him why. "You can sit on ours."

My very first job was in the late 80's, working on Honeywell Bull DPS-8 and DPS-90 mainframes, and DadHacker's comment that "your average cell phone will run rings around the CRAY-1" piqued my interest, enough that I did a bit of digging around to get the hardware specs for those behemoths. Unfortunately, the best I could find was this press release for the DPS-9000, a successor to the DPS-90. It had 1 GB of main memory and 1 MB of cache memory, split amongst 1-4 CPU's, which compares well against the Cray's 8 MB of main memory and 0.080 GHz single CPU 🙂

And while we might laugh at this kind of hardware today, these computers were always about I/O. They were used as database engines, so it was important to have powerful I/O, and the DPS-9000 allowed for up to 1000 input/output channels. I remember the DPS-90's could have up to 4 independent I/O processors, and devices were connected to them, not the mainframe itself, to offload some of the processing. These IOP's were small computers in their own right, with their own operating system, and could be brought up and down individually.

When I started, a lot of the connected disk storage were disk packs, like this on the right. I'm not sure how much they held, but it was probably only a few hundred MB, which wasn't much even in the 80's.

We soon started getting 3380 disk systems, which were the absolute bee's knees - up to 8 2.5GB drives, for a grand total of 20GB. I think we had at least a dozen of these monsters! To compare, the SD card on the right holds 32 GB, and is definitely not to scale - the 3380 cabinet's were well over a metre high.

I tell kids today that I've been doing IT for so long, I started on punch cards (true - we had the MONECS time-sharing system at school), and it's easy to forget how far things have come, so quickly. There's a brief history of disk technology here, with some great pics. My Galaxy S2 does indeed run rings around the old DPS mainframes (on paper, at least - you would never try to run the whole of Telecom Australia's customer database on it :-|), far more cheaply, uses less power and doesn't take a whole secure, air-conditioned facility to do it. And I can play Defender on it :clap: