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Author Topic: ...has more computer 'power' than the Apollo 11
The Ota Faction
Happy Holly Days


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Nowadays you'll hear this phrase whenever someone wants to make a point about either a)just how far we've come as a society, b)how technologically advanced something is, or c)no real point; just hyperbole. I personally have heard a wristwatch, a desktop computer, a new car and a construction crane as examples in recent memory.

A quick Google search produced this page, although it admits it may not be entirely accurate information. Assuming it to be true, combined with my (very)limited computer knowledge, I say, so what? Computers/laptops/automatic bread makers are naturally going to be faster/smaller/better than those of a few years ago, let alone a few decades. Why don't we say things like 'My Toyota Camry gets more HP out of one piston than the entire engine of the 1921 Ford Company's Hamstermobile racer'?

Personal Munchkins aside, when did this comparison begin, and how many products today don't actually have more computer 'power' than the Apollo 11?

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Rehcsif
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I think the difference is that with computing technology, the advances have grown at such an exponential rate that it's a bit boggling. The average person's cell phone has much more computing power than some of the room-sized mainframes of the 60's that cost millions of dollars (in 1960's dollars). It's hard to think of many other products (other than electronics) that have gone down so drastically in price yet have so much more capability...

As a small example, awhile back I found a receipt for a hard drive I purchased in about 1985. It cost about $500, and was 40MB. That's $12.50 per megabyte in 1985 dollars. Today you can pick up a 160GB drive for about $80. 160GB = 160,000MB, so that's one twentieth of a cent per megabyte in 2005 dollars.

-Tim

-Tim

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Wizard of Yendor
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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I've certainly heard that too but I don't think there was much of a point to it beside "Wow, look at how much technology has advanced!". As to exactly how much computing power Apollo 11's computer (or other early computers) had, well I don't know, but that's a more interesting question.

Here's a little info on the Appolo 11 computer, if you're interested. (It was a link from Wiki). It doesn't exactly say how fast it was, but the memory was quite small.

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snopes
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quote:
Why don't we say things like 'My Toyota Camry gets more HP out of one piston than the entire engine of the 1921 Ford Company's Hamstermobile racer'?
Because there's no awe factor there. Sure, modern cars are more advanced than earlier models -- they're faster, safer, more reliable, and easier to drive -- but underneath they're still the same basic internal combustion engine on four wheels. But the idea that a huge, powerful rocket with three astronauts aboard got all the way to the moon and back controlled by a computer less powerful than the one in your handheld MP3 player, now *that's* progress!

- snopes

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Jason Threadslayer
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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quote:
Originally posted by The Ota Faction:
Personal Munchkins aside, when did this comparison begin, and how many products today don't actually have more computer 'power' than the Apollo 11?

A lot of DSPs probably don't have as much processing power as the AGC. You don't need a PowerPC (a Mercedes S-class has 65 of them!) to run your remote control or to read your mouse movements.

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Illuminatus
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I've often heard this comparison made in reverse. Essentially, that the NASA of the 1960's was able to accomplish such amazing things with a PC thousand's of times slower than the one I use to read this board. In that case it's more of a "Look how resourceful we were back then!" rather than "Look how fast and cheap stuff is now!"

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Drag, the Magic Puffin
The Red and the Green Stamps


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quote:
Originally posted by Illuminatus:
I've often heard this comparison made in reverse. Essentially, that the NASA of the 1960's was able to accomplish such amazing things with a PC thousand's of times slower than the one I use to read this board. In that case it's more of a "Look how resourceful we were back then!" rather than "Look how fast and cheap stuff is now!"

Thing is, it wasn't a PC that NASA made. It was a highly-specialized computer that could do only one thing, and nothing else -- navigate a spacecraft. And that it did well.

Today, I have a 1.5-cubic-foot box on my desk that can do word processing, transmit weather information, communicate all accross the world, simulate the flight of an airplane, search for extraterrestrial intelligence, play television programs and recorded movies, create and organize a calendar, plus many other things. Look how resourceful we are now!

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BeachLife
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It wasn't a highly specialized computer, unless you consider the whole package, hardware and software to be the computer. Esentially, it had memory, a processor and multiple specialized input devices. The software was highly specialized though.

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Drag, the Magic Puffin
The Red and the Green Stamps


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quote:
Originally posted by BeachLife:
It wasn't a highly specialized computer, unless you consider the whole package, hardware and software to be the computer. Esentially, it had memory, a processor and multiple specialized input devices. The software was highly specialized though.

...and hard-coded.

The Apollo computer was built and programmed with one use in mind, and everything that went into the making of the computer was geared toward making it more efficient for that one use. It couldn't have been re-programmed without a change in hardware, and even then it wouldn't have done any other task as efficiently. Modern PC computer systems have to be built for flexibility -- the designers of the multiprocessors, memory modules, and other parts have no idea what tasks their product will be used for.

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Jason Threadslayer
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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The Apollo Guidance Computer was an embedded real time system written in AGC assembly.

Embedded systems are geared towards one task, operating the device in which they are embedded. They can use regular CPUs (many cars, plus the F-22 use the PowerPC) or specialised CPU. You can buy single board computers consisting of CPU, RAM, Flash memory, and interfaces for a host computer and external devices. Although they're built from generic components, they're designed to do specialised tasks including run model railroads, not general tasks.

Although you can compare the number crunching power of the AGC to that of an Itanium, it's really a worthless comparison, as people are generally interested more in their use than in their raw performance.

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Shrek_Daddy
Deck the Malls


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Just as an aside, I never heard the Apollo 11 comparasion...The one I used is the space shuttle.

http://spaceflight1.nasa.gov/shuttle/reference/shutref/orbiter/avionics/dps/

This is from 1988---but my understanding is the updates are minimal in the computer area--the old "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" They discuss the upgrades in the mid 1990s to increase the memory 2.5 times and nearly triple speed.

The version before that upgrade--had core memory. Old technology. But the memory kept the information after the Discover exploded, and helped them confirm the program status.

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BoKu
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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Probably straying off topic:

I've often heard it said that the first few versions of the AIM-9 heat-seeking air-to-air missile had less electronics than a typical transistor radio. Judging by William B. MacLean's patent drawings, I think it's probably true.

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KDS
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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Greetings,

I don’t mean to nit-pick, but:

quote:

But the memory kept the information after the Discover exploded, and helped them confirm the program status.

On January 28, 1986 the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch and on February 1, 2003 the Colombia disintegrated on re-entry. Discovery (and Atlantis) are still in use today and have had some major upgrades following the most recent disaster. I’m just wondering - which accident involved the recovery of memory to help determine what happened?

K "The 10 Mile High Club"

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abbubmah
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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I work with specialized "computers" called PLCs, "Programmable Logic Controllers". I consider some of the newest of these to be very powerful, and capable of being used for an almost infinite number of tasks - those tasks being to gather data, act on that data, and provide "real time" control. Anything from stoplight control to manufacturing IBM PCs (true!) Yet, they can't do anything a desktop PC can do. A desktop PC can be made to perform the same function as a PLC, but it does it badly, because it is not specialized to the task of real time operation.

The Apollo Guidance Computer was specialized, more of a real-time controller than what most consider to be a computer, these days. Processor speed and memory size was irrelevant. The logic chain was to take inputs, process against hard parameters, and provide outputs either to real control or to the astronauts as an "oh crap!" light.

The comparison is silly, but it's ignorance talking...

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Fundamentally Unfundie since 1975

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Shrek_Daddy
Deck the Malls


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quote:
Originally posted by KDS:
Greetings,

I don’t mean to nit-pick, but:

quote:

But the memory kept the information after the Discover exploded, and helped them confirm the program status.

On January 28, 1986 the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch and on February 1, 2003 the Colombia disintegrated on re-entry. Discovery (and Atlantis) are still in use today and have had some major upgrades following the most recent disaster. I’m just wondering - which accident involved the recovery of memory to help determine what happened?

K "The 10 Mile High Club"

[Embarrassed] I think I need to improve MY core memory....

The core memory had data from Challenger. And in a similar note, I read that for Columbia, they had what was a tape recorder storing data that survived.

quote:
An old-fashioned magnetic tape recorder that was aboard the doomed space shuttle Columbia is helping NASA fill in critical gaps about what caused the spacecraft to break up on re-entry Feb. 1.
http://www.computerworld.com/hardwaretopics/hardware/story/0,10801,79987,00.html
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aranea russus
The First USA Noel


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Just a small point to make that I don't think has been picked up on. I'd hazard that the most important thing when designing a rocket like Apollo is precision and reliability.

Although I can't speak for NASA scientists, I went for an interview with a satelite company about three years ago, and they were still using chips from the 80's because i) they had proven reliability with other space manufacturers ii) they performed what is a fairly simple job. Essentially they subscribed to the 'if it ain't broke...' theory.

A home PC has to do things very quickly, but no one cares if it gets things a little bit wrong every now and then (eg crash a once a month). A space rocket has to do things very slowly (in terms of processor cycles) and correctly, because there's unlikely to be another chance.

So the comparison breaks down on close inspection, but it's still a fun line to trot out at parties.

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abigsmurf
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didn't the Apollo 11 computer crash at a vital moment though?
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aranea russus
The First USA Noel


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Well exactly, although there were 'software restarts', Armstrong still kept control of the lander (joystick control) , was still able to comunicate with mission control, read instrument panels etc. and in general the craft did not turn into a flying brick.
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Dara bhur gCara
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Interestingly enough, my mobile phone ( A Sony Ericsson s700i) has more computing power than my previous mobile phone.

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This wrinkle in time, I can't give it no credit, I thought about my space and it really got me down.
Got me so down, I got me a headache, My heart is crammed in my cranium and it still knows how to pound


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