Same as it ever was


19 May 2015

Paul HearnsI paused today to look back at the cover of the first ComputerScope from way back in 1985.

The central story was the launch of the new microcomputer, the DEC MicroVAX II.

At the same time, I received a press release about a new workstation motherboard from a well-known Taiwanese manufacturer, offering cutting edge performance for heavy computing workloads. I could hardly resist a comparison.

The MicroVAX II is a 32-bit minicomputer from the DEC company codenamed “Mayflower” that ran a MicroVAX 78032 microprocessor, and a 78132 floating-point coprocessor operating at 5 MHz! There was 1MB of RAM as standard, but that could be expanded to 16MB via special ribbon connectors for additional modules.

The MicroVAX II based workstation with enhanced colour graphics (Image: HP)

The MicroVAX II based workstation with enhanced colour graphics (Image: HP)

According to the cover story, this was a seminal development in microcomputers, as the MicroVAX II offered 90% of the computing power of the VAX II/780 minicomputer for a fraction of the cost. While the minicomputer was in the £100,000 (Irish) range, the MicroVAX II was snip at a mere £24,000!

By comparison, Gigabyte’s new MW70-3S0 is a dual-socket workstation motherboard based on the Intel C612 chipset, that offers 3-way SLI graphics, onboard Serial Attached Storage (SAS) controllers for 12Gb/s transfers and connectivity that would have seen NORAD foaming at the mouth in 1995, let alone ‘85.

But those dual sockets are designed to house the Intel Xeon Processors E5-2600 V3 backed by 8 x DDR4 DIMMs at 2133MHz.

There are few meaningful comparisons except to say that the Xeon E5-2600 processor is an up to 18 core design, with 45Mb of last level cache, based on a 22nm process. The MicroVAX 78032 was 125,000 transistors on a single core design, pre x86 architecture, based on a 3 micron process — that’s 3,000 nanometres!

A fully kitted out workstation based on the MW70-3S0 with two Xeon E5-2600 and 64Gb of DD4, with dual SLI video cards costs in the region of €5,000.

The inflation adjusted price of the MicroVAX II is €59,352!

As Gordon Moore himself marvels at the continued efficacy of his eponymous law, the fact that such a machine can now be a high performance workstation, or server, with millions of times the computing power for 1/12 the cost is just phenomenal.

And yet, another key story on that same front page is a case study of an Irish business and how computing had transformed its business.

It seems no matter what the march of technology, it is still the human element that needs to be brought up to speed for how such tools can help give business the edge.

ComputerScope, Volume 1 Issue 1, 1985 (Image: Mediateam)

ComputerScope, Volume 1 Issue 1, 1985 (Image: Mediateam)

And here we are today.

I’m 10 years in this chair now, and my job is still the same: to talk to vendors, resellers, service providers and end users to understand the import of technological developments, how they can be integrated into business processes and communicate that value to anyone who’ll listen — just like in 1985, 2005, and today.

Oh dear, I’ve come over all Back to the Future!

This is heavy.


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