How Far We’ve Come: 40 Years Of Processing Power

It’s amazing how far we’ve come in the speed of our computing. While the number of instructions a CPU can process in a second isn’t a perfect benchmark, as it doesn’t account for the efficiency of the instructions, it will do for our simple comparison. To put the difference the years have made into perspective: 1 second of processing by Intel’s (2011) i7 3960X would have taken the best 1985 personal computer over 4 hours 29 minutes!

Year Chip Millions of Instructions per Second
1985 Intel 386DX 11 MIPS at 33 MHz
1992 Intel 486DX 54 MIPS at 66 MHz
1996 Intel Pentium Pro 541 MIPS at 200 MHz
1999 Intel Pentium III 2,054 MIPS at 600 MHz
iPhone 4S ~5,000 MIPS
2003 Intel Pentium 4 9,726 MIPS at 3.2 GHz
iPhone 5S ~20,500 MIPS
iPhone 6 ~25,000 MIPS
2006 Intel Core 2 X6800 (2 core) 27,079 MIPS at 2.93 GHz
2006 Intel Core 2 QX6700 (4 core) 49,161 MIPS at 2.66 GHz
2008 Intel Core i7 920 (4 core) 82,300 MIPS at 2.66 GHz
2011 Intel Core i7 3960X (6 core) 177,730 MIPS at 3.33 GHz
2013 Intel Core i7 4770K (4 core) 133,740 MIPS at 3.9 GHz
2014 Intel Core i7 5960X (8 core) 238,310 MIPS at 3.0 GHz
2015 Intel Core i7 6700K (4 core) ~161,173 MIPS at 4.0 GHz

Note: Due to Apple’s obsession with secrecy the iPhone numbers are approximations based on custom utilities and not official. The i7 6700K was just announced last week so benchmarks aren’t available yet, but Intel claims it is 20% faster than the i7 4770K.

Fixing My Desktop’s Noise & Heat

When Intel released it’s iCore CPUs a few years ago, it was a huge step forward in processing power.  Reading up on how overclockable the the entry level i7 was, I ordered my own and built a new desktop around a new i7-920 and GeForce 285.  And it was awesome and powerful, but loud and hot in my office.  However, in 2009, noise and heat were expected if you wanted game on your PC, so a warm office was the norm.

Fast forward to 6 months ago when I replace my Tivo with a HTPC.  Because the HTPC would reside in the living room, I researched and purchased components that got good reviews for being quiet. That said, I never expected it to be dead silent.  Thanks to an ivy-bridge i5-3570K processor, a SSD, a quiet case, and a silent power supply it makes negligible noise.  One can hear the CPU fan if you put your head behind the HTPC but not otherwise, so for practical purposes it is a silent PC.  Which got me thinking about the aging beast in my office.

Armed with a Kill-A-Watt and a dream, I set out to fix my desktop’s heat and noise problem…CPU Cooler


At the end of 2010 I had upgraded my graphics card to the ATI HD6950 for two reasons.  First, it let me game on across 3 screens thanks to eyefinity support.  Second, it was quieter and had a lower power draw than the vacuum-cleaner-sounding GeForce 285 (OK that might be a slight overstatement).  That and the addition of an SSD as my main drive were the only changes to my still potent rig. But the silence of my HTPC raised my expectations and the constant whirring of fans became painfully more noticeable.

First, I attacked the CPU problem by replacing the stock cooler with a quieter Zalman one.  Playing around with my CPU overclock settings I discovered that the i7-920 overclocking to 3.2Ghz used 40 more watts of power and ran 11C hotter at idle than the stock 2.6Ghz. However, reducing the OC to 3.0Ghz only used 1 additional watt and only ran 1C hotter at idle. The lower OC was also 15C cooler at full load (84C vs 99C). This was a step in the right direction, but even with these savings my desktop was still pulling 189W idling with the monitors asleep (best case).  Compared to my HTPC that used only 43W idling and <60W while in use, I still had a way to go.

Unplugging all my case fans one by one help me located my next biggest offender: my power supply.  This was an easy fix since I had been very impressed with the KingWin Lazer Platinum Series 550 watt power supply that I had used in my HTPC.  It has two settings for it’s fan: extremely quiet and off.  Seriously.  It acts as a passive PSU in my HTPC.  I keep the fan on in my desktop since the thermal requirements are higher but wow what a difference.  More amazing than that is the efficiency of the thing.  Its 80 PLUS Platinum High Efficiency is no joke and it dropped my idle power draw to 168W.  That’s 21W of pure heat waste removed.

Next up was my graphics card.  In my research on GPU power draws I discovered an oddity: The HD6000 series didn’t truly idle with more than 1 monitor.  I verified this on my machine and found it was running at 50% of max clock with 2 or 3 monitors attached.  This meant it was running 10C hotter at idle (58C vs 48C) and using 40 extra watts to be attached to an extra monitor.  This was even if the monitor and signal were asleep.  Dropping back to a single monitor dropped my idle load down to 128W, but wasn’t a practical solution as extra monitors are a must for productivity.

Enter the ASUS GTX660 DC2O. The GTX660 was a sweet spot for power usage as it is the fully implemented version of NVidia’s mid-grade chip and ASUS made the quietest version of it according to reviews.  Also this card also offered a 20% boost in gaming performance even with that less power and noise.  The new GPU reduced my idle power draw to just 125W (with multiple monitors) another 41W savings.  The card also idles at just 39C and is inaudible (because of the the CPU fan) unless intensely gaming.  Even then the CPU fan is usually louder than it due it’s added load.  Gaming power draw fluctuates a lot but the GTX660 seems to use 15-35W less at the same setttings.

Results: So 3 upgrades and some tweaking later and my desktop is considerably quieter and it’s idle power draw has dropped from 229W to 125W.  Since at idle my computer is doing the same amount of work, all of that power difference was simply heat waste.  It takes approximately 39W of to raise 1,000 cubic feet of air 1 degree Fahrenheit.  My office is closer to 1300 cubic feet so that 104W translates into 2F cooler in my office.  That is substantial because that’s a 2F difference while my computer is sitting there doing nothing.  So when I walk into the office to start working I’m already better off and those differences continue through my now much cooler and quieter day.


Tablet Takeover Infographic

Just as laptops once edged out desktops, so tablets have also begun to replace laptops for many users. Tablets have rapidly become the most quickly adopted piece of technology to hit the market in years, and they’re revolutionizing computing portability. If you are a tablet user, then there’s a good chance that you often forgo your old laptop in favor of the easy convenience of a tablet—and if you’re not a tablet user yet, you’d be surprised at how that may soon change as tablets become more affordable, accessible, and attainable for broader demographics.

Infographic by

Tablet Infographic

What Apple Needs In The iPad 3

Rumors are starting to fly furiously as the iPad’s impending launch approaches. With possible launch dates ranging from Feb 29th to March 7th, the wait is almost over.  But this launch is unique from past years as Android has finally produced an actual rival for the tablet space.  While the Amazon Kindle Fire is in many ways not in the same league as the King of the tablets, it did make an appreciable dent in Apple’s holiday sales to the tune of over a Billion dollars.  So what does Apple need to do in the iPad 3 to stay the dominant force in 2012?

  1. Retina Display – The time for a HD display has passed and Samsung is trying to beat Apple to the punch with it’s own retina resolution tablet. I can attest to the eye fatigue induced from too much iPadding and with their latest play for the textbook market this is a no-brainer.
  2. Graphical Power – 4 times the pixels in a retina display demands 4 times the graphical power just to stay in one place.  With ever more demanding games becoming a cash cow, expect this to increase by at least a factor of 8 or more.  A faster CPU is in the works but a modest bump here is all that is needed to keep things snappy with an adequate GPU.
  3. Softer Edges – Literally. The tapered edges that make the iPad 2 seem even thinner dig into one’s hands rather quickly.  Something that couldn’t have been lost on the majority of Apple employees using this product.
  4. Real Office Software – Look Pages, Docs To Go, Quickoffice and the like are merely passable.  While the office software has improved since the original iPad, it is still sorely lacking.  The first company to get this right will not only make a pile of cash in the student and enterprise market but will lock in users to the ecosystem of their choice.  Oh only has to consider the history of Microsoft to see the importance of this issue.  An iOS exclusive would put a boot on the neck of Android while the reverse could quickly break Apple’s near monopoly of the tablet space.

Finally a few things that would be great, but I doubt we’ll see from Cupertino.

  1. Matte Display – I realize the new Apple campus looks like a spaceship, but surely they have fluorescent lights in their current one.  Is anyone else tired of being able to read their own hip T-shirt in the even the slightest of glare?
  2. iPad Specific Keyboard – I realize the standard Apple bluetooth keyboard works with the iPad but many of the OSX function keys at the top don’t.  And really is it so much heresy to want functional arrow keys?  Sometimes you just want to move the cursor a letter or two without playing tap-tap revolution on your screen to get it there.  Seriously, when it’s easier to delete the last two words to just typed than to reposition the cursor to your typo – you have failed on the much vaunted “ease of use” mantra.

Again, I realize I’m tilting at windmills here, but I can’t help it.

How Far We’ve Come: 35 Years Of Processing Power

It’s amazing how far we’ve come in the speed of our computing. While MIPs isn’t a perfect benchmark, as it doesn’t account for the efficiency of the instructions, it will do for our simple comparison.   To put the difference the years have made into perspective: 1 second of processing by the current i7 champ would have taken the best 1985 computer over 4 hours 29 minutes!  Another fun comparison is that the new iPhone 4S clocks in at about 5,000 MIPs which is faster than a computer from 1999.

Year Chip Millions of Instructions Per Second
1985 Intel 386DX 11 MIPS at 33 MHz
1992 Intel 486DX 54 MIPS at 66 MHz
1996 Intel Pentium Pro 541 MIPS at 200 MHz
1999 Intel Pentium III 2,054 MIPS at 600 MHz
2003 Intel Pentium 4 9,726 MIPS at 3.2 GHz
2008 Intel Core i7 920 82,300 MIPS at 2.66 GHz
2011 Intel Core i7 3960X 177,730 MIPS at 3.33 GHz

Here’s another fun comparison: an old 8MB vs a new 8GB (8000MB) memory card: