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Supercomputing Cellphones Java Hardware Technology

Mobile Phones vs. Supercomputers of the Past 247

Posted by timothy
from the crays-are-pure-sculpture dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The recently published Top 500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers is based on the Linpack benchmark developed decades ago by Jack Dongarra. This same test has been ported to Android mobile phones, which means that we can compare the performance of our phones against that of the supercomputers of the past. For example, a tweaked Motorola Droid can hit 52 Mflop/s, which is more than 15 times faster than the CPUs used in the 1979 Cray-1." But even today's most powerful cellphones don't come with an integrated bench.
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Mobile Phones vs. Supercomputers of the Past

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  • by Pojut (1027544) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @02:56PM (#32448928) Homepage

    ...make me kinda sad. On the one hand, I LOVE when I was born (1984). I'm old enough to remember a time without the Internet, without a PC in every home, and when cell phones were the size of briefcases...yet I'm still young enough to take advantage of technological innovations, keep up with advances, and appreciate the impact it has on our lives.

    On the other hand, I wonder how much amazing stuff I would see had I been born even just 20 years later. In my lifetime I have already watched (for example) the NES as a state of the art system turn into the average gaming PC having a video card capable of over 1 teraflop worth of processing power. How much extra innovation and advancement would I see if I had STARTED with those 1+ teraflop cards?

    "Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow." -Kay

  • Time machine (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MrEricSir (398214) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @02:57PM (#32448938) Homepage

    So if I read this correctly, the point of this article is we should get a time machine so we can go back to the 70's and impress people with our smartphones?

    See the problem here is that they won't have wifi or 3G coverage. All we'll be able to do is show those people of the ancient past Angry Bird and maybe one of those "pull-my-finger" apps. It just won't be all that impressive.

  • Re:Time machine (Score:3, Insightful)

    by decipher_saint (72686) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:00PM (#32448996) Homepage

    I was about to say, all this computing power finally in the hands of the ordinary person and what's the most popular application? Fart Button...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:14PM (#32449168)

    I believe it was a CPU to CPU comparison. 136/12 = 11?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:22PM (#32449272)

    The difference is information and communication. With high powered devices in our pockets that can access the Internet and make international calls, we can learn or reference nearly anything on the spot. One of my co-workers does not own a cell-phone. If someone needs to contact him, it can be days before they get a response. While at lunch with this fellow, we came across a bit of trivia that neither of us knew off hand. With a compatible phone, we could instantly look that information up, rather than sitting at the lunch table pondering the answer, or trying to remember to look it up when we got back to the office. Little things like that may not seem as big as hunter/gather into agriculture society, but eventually it will.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:29PM (#32449390)
    Not rendering bitty little colour screens or scanning for viruses. Plus the code was written to extract every last drop of power out of the architecture. So when you compare the amount of WORK a machine from the 70s or 80s did (my university's mainframe had a FORTRAN complier that needed less that 131kWord of memory - today the GRUB bootloader is bigger than that) with a more modern box, with all its overheads and inefficiencies, the balance isn't as great as the scoffers might think.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:32PM (#32449434) Homepage Journal

    For example, a tweaked Motorola Droid can hit 52 Mflop/s, which is more than 15 times faster than the CPUs used in the 1979 Cray-1.

    Cray's approach [wikipedia.org] to supercomputing wasn't just to make the CPU fast. Indeed, he outcompeted faster CPUs by making all of his computers fast, so no power in the machine was wasted waiting for something else. Especially IO and memory were his focus for throughput. A Droid's CPU is bottlenecked by the rest of the device.

    This unfair comparison isn't just whining about missing Cray's point. There's a lot of power in that Droid that the SW can't exploit, because its bottlenecks leave the fast parts waiting. Not only does that slow them down, but it wastes electrical energy. Which is the biggest problem in mobile devices.

    LINPACK isn't the best way to measure supercomputers, and "nanocomputers" like mobile phones could be better if they learned something from Cray's research 40 years ago.

  • by Lundse (1036754) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:38PM (#32449508)

    A portable phone with pictures is nothing compared to suddenly living in car-powered cities vs. agricultural existence.

    Maybe it is not comparable to the agrarian hunter gatherer vs. industrialized society-gap, but everyone being able to film and upload in seconds does make an impact. (I headed here from the ongoing discussion over cops not wanting people to film them; some balance of power is shifting here).

    The toys may not matter much in the lives of the individual, but neither does a car in itself. Living in a society where everyone has a car, and products can be moved about with ease, does make a difference - and so does living in a world where everyone can share anything with everybody.
    The profit-motive and gadget-fever western society is so wild about right now is making huge, serious changes elsewhere:
    http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2010/04/sms-fights-malaria-scourge-in-africa/ [wired.com]
    http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/ghana/090527/africa-looks-cell-phone-banking [globalpost.com]
    And that whole outsourcing thing we are seeing the tip of now...

  • by natehoy (1608657) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:42PM (#32449592) Journal

    I'm only a couple of decades older than you. I agree with you, but I also realize that I take it as a given that, during the course of my lifespan, there's always been television (not color to start with, but there was TV), that indoor plumbing and lights have always been around, flight is not only possible but commonplace and pretty much always has been, and the moon landing happened before I was born.

    A part of me regrets missing the introduction of all of those exciting technologies and innovations, because to me they are all background things that just are. They aren't wondrous, they just are.

    No matter where you live in history, there are always improvements that you'll appreciate, but there's always amazing stuff that was there before that you will only see as part of the world as it's always been, and will be even more amazing stuff that will come after you that would probably blow your mind if you ever had the chance to see it (or would be so far beyond your comprehension you couldn't appreciate it).

    You don't truly appreciate the amazing parts of an advance unless you've watched those parts happen.

    To me, computers (and video games, etc), color/stereo televisions, microwaves, mobile phones, digital wristwatches, and many of the things you no doubt take for granted are marvels. When I was a kid, they largely did not exist. Which is not to say they all of them were completely unavailable, but when I was growing up no one I knew owned any of them and they were brand new.

    I both envy my grandparents (now all dead) and my yet-to-be-born grandchildren the wonders of their lifetimes that I will never see they way they do. The wonders of my grandparents are my commonplace items. The wonders of my grandchildren are probably beyond my imagination.

    But that's just human nature. We want to see it all. And eventually we learn we'll never succeed. It's both heartening and saddening at the same time.

  • by adonoman (624929) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:47PM (#32449672)
    It's pretty close to flat - the curvature of the earth is less than a foot per mile - a rounding error really, given that even the smoothest of prairies can easily vary by more than that.
  • This is sad really (Score:4, Insightful)

    by scorp1us (235526) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:19PM (#32450098) Journal

    Remember this scene in hackers?

    PHREAK: Yo. Check this out guys, this is insanely great, it's got a 28.8 BPS modem!
    DADE: Yeah? Display?
    CEREAL: Active matrix, man. A million psychedelic colors. Man, baby, sweet, ooo!
    NIKON: I want it.
    PHREAK: I want it to have my children! ...
    KATE: What the hell are you doing?
    DADE: It's cool, I'm just looking.
    KATE: It's too much machine for you.
    DADE: Yeah?
    KATE: I hope you don't screw like you type.
    DADE: It has a killer refresh rate.
    KATE: P6 chip. Triple the speed of the Pentium.
    DADE: Yeah. It's not just the chip, it has a PCI bus. But you knew that.
    KATE: Indeed. RISC architecture is gonna change everything.
    DADE: Yeah. RISC is good.

    Now, imagine all that excitement from the processing power and bandwidth they had even on a 28.8 modem - that we now have multiples of... in our pockets Where is it being leveraged for the goal for the good of man kind? Folding and SETI are good starts, but they haven; taken off. We've got tons of idle cycles... You'd figure there'd be some processing client where you get paid for your cycles, but it only exists as illegal botnets. Where's the open utility computing? Why don't my computers' idle cycles pay for themselves?

    They were supposed to make our lives easier, but for as much as they empowered us, the exception processing got dumped on us. The nature of that work is different from the regular rhythmic routine of normal processing. Exceptions are urgent, require more effort and as a result are more stressful. And any news you get is when something is wrong.

    I like the idea of being able to chat with people on the other side of the planet, but I haven't figured out what good it is to me. We don't have much in common with each other. I like the idea that I can do my own stock trading, but this usually means I lose money instead of my money manager. ;-p

    Computers now cause as many problems as they solve (Goldman Sachs, AIG, I'm looking at you!) Is our society any better? Are people happier? Or are we more stressed out?

    (And what has my /. commenting gotten me. Not a date or a dollar for sure!)

  • by sznupi (719324) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:21PM (#32450136) Homepage

    ...so it would really boil down to how useful running your brain simulation is to the rest of humanity. Guess the answer to that.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:27PM (#32450218) Homepage

    I think it really all depends on perspective - my old man worked with everything from vacuum tube computers and magnetic core memory up to PCs before he retired, he thought the advancements were pretty damn amazing. If you want to crown the most revolutionary time of computers there's very heavy competition. The 40s saw the first real computers, the 50s the transistor, the 60s the mainframes, the 70s the minicomputer, the 80s the PC, the 90s Internet, 00s mobile devices and wireless. Every one of them a revolution in their own right. But I'm guessing we have a lot to come as well, not that I would know what...

  • by tuomoks (246421) <tuomo@descolada.com> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:37PM (#32450334) Homepage

    A good time to be born, LOL. Don't take seriously the replies from other youngsters, they know maybe less than you how it was before. Cell phones size of briefcase were actually in use already -82, well, cell is a strong word, they were NMT phones but the size is correct. I had one to carry with me and one in car, ouch! Yes, the hardware efficiency has gone up a lot, the problem, the waste in software has grown even faster so in many ways we are still on same level. Fun, games, beautiful(?) pictures, etc are now everywhere but real business transactions, information handling / using / whatever is not much faster or efficient than it was in 70's. Relatively compared to resources and cost it's actually worse - not amazing when quantity and greed meets quality something has to give!

    Anyway - leaving games and other waste aside, computer systems today are fun to play, every day even more - as has been since I started late 60's. Unfortunately software / systems development is a commodity today - amazing that even Cobol application developers who I was always yelling at that time knew more about computers, OS's, file and database systems, etc than 98% highly certified developers today? You will see how the computer world stabilizes to same as any manufacturing - a couple of designers, a bunch of engineers, a lot of floor workers.

    You definitely will see more and more amazing stuff, and faster, but it really is up to each individual in IT/computer field to keep up. If you don't innovate / create or own yourself, you will be just a worker and they usually are not even allowed to know too much. Think and look around, how many companies / corporations / enterprises educate or even train (not same but!) any more? It's one of the modern wonders you are seeing.

  • by sznupi (719324) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @05:33PM (#32451038) Homepage

    While technically true, one can't help but wonder what the prevalent folk views were.

    Hey, even now some "theories" are just arbitrarily dismissed a bit too commonly...

  • by schon (31600) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @05:35PM (#32451054)

    when I was born (1984)

    I'm only a couple of decades older than you. [...] during the course of my lifespan, there's always been television (not color to start with, but there was TV), that indoor plumbing and lights have always been around, flight is not only possible but commonplace and pretty much always has been, and the moon landing happened before I was born.

    .. and people could always do simple arithmetic.

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