Computer Bang for the Buck

The phrase “bang for the buck” refers to performance relative to cost. Higher bang for the buck means that you get more performance for less cost. For computer technology, this has been a logarithmic curve of greatly increasing performance with a falling price tag.

The increasing performance has largely been attributed to the gains in processor speed and reduction in size of integrated circuits, aka microchips. You may have heard of Moore’s Law, named for Gordon E. Moore of Intel. Moore predicted in 1965 that processor speed would double every 1-2 years for the foreseeable future. It has been said that if automotive technology followed the same trajectory as microchips, the average car would travel at 300,000 mph, get over 2 million mpg, and cost only $0.04 to make.

I recently decided to organize my many hard drives and was reminded of how the cost of storage has fallen at a remarkable rate over the years. My first external hard drive, purchased in the early-mid 1990s, held 1 GB (yes, gigabyte) of data at a cost of $1,000. Here’s what more than 100 TB of storage looks like today.

More than 1TB of removable storage

If this amount of storage was purchased at early 1990s prices, it would cost $100 million! If you look back further, the numbers are even crazier.

Now, think about your smart phone and the processing power that it contains. Your phone has millions of times more computational power than the computers used in 1969 by the Apollo scientists when they put a man on the moon. If you were to pay for that much computing power at prices from just 30 years ago, you’d have to spend 10s of millions of dollars. I know the cost of a new smart phone is pretty steep when you’re trying to pay rent, tuition, your streaming media subscriptions, and an occasional trip to Chipotles…but it really is a bargain when you look at it through the lens of computer history.

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