CPUs: How much more powerful

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Compared with the earlist desktop chips, like the Intel 8088, how many TIMES more powerful is the most current Intel chip, the i7? or the new iPad 2 chip, Apple 5. Is there a formula or a reference site? Thanks.

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Well, my first computer was a v.32 (V dot 32) which was the generation before the 8086 processor. I believe that it was running at 6 or 8 Mhz. My computer today (i7) has 4 cores which each run at 2.8Ghz (11.2Ghz total).

If I’ve done my math correctly, my current computer is 1911.4 times faster than my first one (assuming my first one has a 6 Mhz CPU, 1433.6 times faster if it had an 8 Mhz CPU). Also remember those old computers didn’t have math co-processors built on so that kept them running even slower.

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  • TomLiotta
    ...how many TIMES more powerful is... What does "powerful" mean? A high-end Ferrari (or SR-71 Blackbird!) might transport you between LA and New York more times in a month than a large dump truck could. Which is more "powerful"? More registers, additional logic units, memory management, CISC vs. RISC, pipe-lining... there are many areas of differences that affect different elements of a workload. A data bus might be 64-bits wide today where it was 8-bits wide many years ago. But that doesn't really help if you're sending a single byte at a time across it. I suppose you could look at some way to construct a direct comparison circuit board where you could interchange an old CPU with a new one to see if the new one could drive old programs faster. Maybe that could result in an actual comparison. But the motherboards are very different. I/O subsystems have very different chip sets. GPUs offload a lot of processing... For me, about the only thing I can say is that I can do stuff that I could only dream about back then. My cell phone has far more memory than the first corporate mainframe that I worked with. That mainframe would have been taxed just by trying to drive the main LCD on my phone. (And in color? Hah!) I no longer have any meaningful ways to think of relative "power" between old and new devices. The differences are multi-dimensional. Tom
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  • Scot Petersen
    Thanks. What about MIPS?
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  • TomLiotta
    What about MIPS? I've been trying to remember the last time I saw a significant discussion of MIPS as a way to measure and/or compare processors. It's been long enough that I can't think of a decent reference. But here are a couple relevant quotes from a fairly basic discussion in MIPS/MFLOPS and CPU Performance. It doesn't really get into things, but it's a start:
    • An example: imagine a 32bit processor running at 400MHz. It might be rated at 400MIPS. Now consider a 64bit processor running at 200MHz. It might be rated at 200MIPS (assume a simple design in each case). But suppose my task involves 64bit fp processing (eg. computational fluid dynamics, or audio processing, etc.): the 32bit processor would take many more clock cycles to complete a single 64bit fp multiply since its registers are only of a 32bit word length. The 32bit CPU would take at least twice as long to carry out such an operation. Thus, for 64bit operations, the 32bit processor would be much slower than the 64bit processor. Now think of it the other way round: suppose one's task only involved 32bit operations. Unless the 64bit registers in the 64bit CPU could be treated as two 32bit registers, the 32bit CPU would be much faster. It all depends on the processing requirements.
    • The situation in real life is far more complicated though, because real CPUs rarely do one thing at a time and in just one clock cycle. Simple arithmetic operations may take 1 cycle, an integer multiplty might take 2 cycles, a fp multiply might take 5 clock cycles, a complex square root operation in a CISC design take 20 cycles, and so on. Worse, some CPUs are designed to do more than one of the same kind of operation at once, ie. they have more than one of a particular kind of processing unit. CPUs such as SGI's R10000 series (or later equivalents), the HP PA8000 series, the old Alpha 21x64 series, etc. often have 2 or more integer processing units, multiple fp processing units and at least one load/store unit. Sometimes, they may have special units too, for example to accelerate square root calculuations.
    For an example area that can complicate things more, review the Instruction pipeline Wikipedia article. Imagine trying to determine a valid "MIPS" value when eight instruction streams are being processed and branch prediction gives incorrect results anywhere from 10% to 70% of the time depending on code optimization and the program types being executed. Main processor chips nowadays are more complex than entire PCs were when "IBM clones" were taking off. I know that my early PCs couldn't handle even as much memory as on-chip memory caches of today. Sorry, I just honestly don't know how MIPS works any more. Tom
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  • Scot Petersen
    [...] 4. TomLiotta and Mrdenny sparked the discussion on how much stronger CPU is these days. [...]
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