60 Years of Change - Embedded.com

60 Years of Change

The IEEE's Computer Society is 60years old this year. It was organized the very same year ENIAC startedoperation, which is an astonishingly-fast reaction to the start of thecomputer age. Before ENIAC mechanical calculators were common, butthere were only two or three electronic computers of any type.

ENIAC sucked 150 KW, or aboutthe same as 2000 Pentium 4 chips. That's 500 million times the powerused by some of TI's MSP430 processors when operating at 1 MHz (200times the ENIAC's clock rate).

It took up to 29 milliseconds to do a division. The Pentium 4(depending wildly on operating conditions) is something like a milliontimes faster yet almost twice as precise.

The machine cost $500k in 1946 dollars, equivalent to $5,134,000today. Now some variants of Microchip's PIC10 go for $0.39. This, ofcourse, is an unfair comparison since the ENIAC's price includeddevelopment. But in this era of $330 million fighter jets one has toadmire ENIAC's designers for bringing in a government contract socheaply.

ENIAC weighed 30 tons and occupied some 2400 cubic feet of volume.That's a far cry from today's processors that middle-aged myopics canbarely see. Check out this part –

Along way from ENIAC: A Silicon Laboratories' 8051-varient. (Photo bypermission of Silicon Laboratories).

The Computer Society's magazine, Computer, has been published sinceabout 1967. Consider how much has changed since then! In 1967 big ironstill ruled.

The UNIVAC 1108 was inits heyday. It sported a maximummemory size of 256k 36 bit words, or a bit more than one MB, yet,depending on configuration, cost millions of dollars. The machinefilled a large room.

DEC's PDP minicomputers wereking at that time. The company priced core memory at about $17,000 (intoday's dollars) for 8K bytes. Bill Gates grew up on PDP-11s, so maybeit's no surprise he later said that no one would need more than 640KB.

Today, Computer has a column that lists articles they ran 16 and 32years ago. That former date is 1990. Windows 3.0 had just appeared. Itwas practically unusable, though still small enough to be distributedon floppy disks. 8.3 filenames were still the only choice. Linux didn'texist.

The 33 MHz 486 had just been released for $1330 in today's dollars.Laptop variants came in PLCC packages! Compare that to today's exoticpackaging technologies. The PowerPC was still years away and Apple'sMac used 68k-derived processors. That was the year Advanced RISCMachines was founded now known as ARM.

Few embedded systems used 32 bitters, instead favoring 8 bitprocessors like Motorola's 68HC11. The part remains popular today, and486's are ironically now seen only in embedded applications.

In 60 years the computer industry was born and matured. The pace oftechnological evolution has been breathtaking. But that's true of anysegment of time in this business, as illustrated by how far we've comein just the last 16 years.

Can you imagine where we'll be 60 years hence? Or even 16?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embeddeddevelopment issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helpscompanies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is .


I remember working on the PDP-8. When 'core' meant that woven fabric thingy with a bunch of ferrite beads in it. Madly typing away on a DEC Selenawriter coding the thing up…

How about that 'evil' paper tray holder, that would 'dump' all its paper … onto the floor, if you pulled it out too far!

The future?

I believe that the future will drive us further towards connectivity, and connection-oriented processing. The real bottleneck of the future, and future pressing of processor, and info-processing technology will mainly be centered around getting as much info managed/groomed/delivered to all those connected devices!

The future is connectivity!

– Ken Wada


In CEATEC 2006, Toshiba demonstrated Cell processor's future. A camera that can detect users gestures on a role playing video game. Real-time processing. The cell architecture itself is connection oriented, with amazing features for the future. Processing power previously available only to DoD is now available in video-games.

The Hi-definition movies are astounding. It reminds us of professor Raj Reddy's lecture titled, “Towards Teleportation, Time Travel and Immortality” that he delivered in 1997, he mentions that “By the year 2000, we can expect to see a giga-PC, a billion operations per second, a billion bits of memory and a billion-bit network bandwidth available for less than two thousand dollars. Barring the creation of a cartel or some unforeseen technological barrier, we should see a tera-PC by the year 2015 and a peta-PC by the year 2030–well before 2047”. It seems Moore's law will hold good for a … long long time.

– Britto Edward Victor


I remember in the late 50's the LGP30?? with a spinning magnetic drum memory. You had to wait for it to come up to speed before you could start to use it. Of course programming was through punch cards.

I remember using both PDP 8s and 11s. You had to set/flip 16 switches, and in hex put in the bootstrap program, which would then install the loading program from paper tape, which would then install the main program from paper tape. Then you you could put in the application program. If you lost power or accidently turned it off, you had to start all over.

– Stu Brown


Please Jack….we're middle-aged presbyopics, not myopics(though some may be both). I can remember actually being able to solder the leads on micros without the aid of optical devices. Pin pitch and age have put an end to that.

– Randall Shaull

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