birmingham.io

Historic tracking of computer performance

In 1 week I tried to order a Raspberry Pi 2 and visited the Science Museum where I saw Pegasus, the last commercial machine built with valves. I wondered what the relative performance was. I remembered that the first machine I worked on, the VAX 11/780 was the original unit of 1 MIP. That unit worked until RISC processors with higher clock rates but simpler instruction sets started skewing the data by claiming higher MIP ratings. DEC redefined the VAX-only MIP, the VUP.

Understandably, some manufacturers like to exaggerate performance of new processors but over time they get benchmarked, but using changing benchmarks. As the data becomes less commercially sensitive, I’d imagine there would be greater honesty, so makers can show off about the multiples of performance of their newer toys.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a site that recorded relative performance over time, allowed comparisons, graphed improvements etc.? If there is then please tell me where.

That sounds similar to what spec.org does, though they only go back to 1992 and only have results from 1995 online. Before that was Linpack, Whetstone, Dhrystone and probably some others.

Roy Longbottom (who is now 80!), co-author of whetstone has benchmarks on the VAX 11/780 and Raspberry Pi, which puts the Raspberry Pi 2 at about 500x the performance of the VAX 11/780 from the look of it.

Raspberry Pi results:
http://www.roylongbottom.org.uk/Raspberry%20Pi%20Benchmarks.htm#anchor4a

Various results, including VAX 11/780
http://www.roylongbottom.org.uk/whetstone.htm

Excellent, thanks! The VAX 11/780 was used by half a dozen staff and a room of 12-16 terminals mostly used by students learning to write code, usually in Pascal.

I know how you feel. I recall my manager being really pleased in about 1983 when the Board had approved another megabyte of memory for our mainframe computer. Things like the platter disk drives and manual Hollerith card punch machines were commonplace once, but today one never sees them.

Sadly the technology advanced so quickly that facts and details like we are describing were seldom considered, everyone was just too busy trying to ensure the next new system went in on time!

Just the supporting reference manuals were never ending, needing a wall full of shelves. Back then manuals were entirely in printed format, and held in A4 size folders. As computers were upgraded one had no option but to ditch all the manuals to make room for the new ones!

The VAX/VMS manuals in my first job were on shelves about 4 feet wide and as high as you could reach. Minor upgrades came with update pages. It was quite an exciting event. A couple of us would replace the pages and call out any interesting changes.

My reason for wanting the data was not primarily nostalgia. I have maybe half a dozen PCs; mostly that I’ve upgraded from. Some could be made to function as a server but would it be worth the effort, relative to a current machine? If I spent £50 on a new power supply, would I have a PC worth £50?

The hardware dependency tree is quite interesting too. I have some tapes and a drive but it doesn’t fit in my current machines, musical gubbins that needs a sound card with a MIDI port.

I used a cheapo USB MIDI recently plugging into a 1995ish Digital piano and it worked fine - though I only tried on OSX, that sort of stuff tends to work on Linux pretty well (though I didn’t try it).

Mostly, I’ve migrated my data away from formats that are hard to read now and will be harder in the future and consolidated them onto a hard drive.

Though I’ve got a couple of SCSI drives that I don’t remember if I blanked (got rid of the machine with the SCSI card), also had stuff on compact flash and sony m2 - so I blanked them and sold them to CEX.

Proudly sponsored by Bytemark