Tech from Yesteryear

Old Technologies That Were the First of Their Kind

It’s mindblowing what technology can do. The average smartphone – even a lower spec model –  can do more than the average computer could 30 years ago. To see where we might be headed, take a look back at the past. We comparing today’s technologies with their original predecessor.

Worlds First True Computer – The ENIAC

The world’s first true digital computer, the ENIAC, was announced to the world in 1946. The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) filled a huge room and took several people to operate. It was invented by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly at the University of Pennsylvania.

The ENIAC could output 5,000 addition problems in one second. For comparison, the iPhone X (174 grams) can handle around 600 billion instructions per second – 120 million times more than ENIAC – at a cost of around £1,000 retail.

Stats:

  • Weight: 28 tons – as much as five elephants or 145,983 iPhone X devices
  • Power: 170,000 Watts
  • Vacuum tubes: 17,840
  • Cost: $487,000 (£6-7 million today)
  • Longest period of continuous operation: 116 hours

Worlds First Personal Computer

The MITS Altair 8800 is considered by many to be the world’s first personal computer. It was relatively affordable and easy to obtain. It launched in January 1975 by MITS, an American electronics company founded in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Altair 8800 allowed tech-enthusiasts to write their own programmes in machine language by flicking switches – initially all without a keyboard although this was later introduced.  The Altair 8800 also could be used to play games or process spreadsheets when combined with a video terminal. Bill Gates saw an opportunity and bought into the company – releasing an Altair programming language as Microsoft’s first product.

For comparison, the 2018 iPad 9.7-inch model runs at 2.16 GHz and includes 2GB RAM, an 8MP camera, and 4K HD video – at a cost of circa £300. This makes the 2018 iPad 9.7 model 1080 times faster than the MTS Altair 8800 – not a bad amount of progress in 43 years.

Stats:

  • Speed: 2MHz
  • RAM: not included, 256 bytes available as an add-on
  • Weight: 66 lbs
  • Cost: DIY Kit $439, Assembled $621 ($2,056.33 and $2,908.84 in 2018). Pretty pricey for a computer without a screen.

Worlds First Mobile Phone

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While there were mobile phones of sorts before this model, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X (what a mouthful) was the first commercially available cellphone. Before this time, a mobile phone was most likely to be found in a car or plane rather than in the hand of a businessman. The DynaTAC 8000X reached the market in 1983. The phone weighed in at 790g and was more than 10 inches long, not including It’s antenna. It could call for up to 60 minutes before it needed to be charged for 10 hours. Despite how ridiculous this sounds today, the DynaTAC 8000X was revolutionary. Who’d have thought that 35 years later you could explore your neighborhood and catch Pokemon, in full-colour HD, on a device weighing less than 170g?

The DynaTAC 8000X could store an impressive 30 numbers and cost approximately $3,995 – the average car cost $6,294 at the time.

To put this into perspective, the Samsung S8 comes with 64GB of built-in storage – enough to store 304,761,904 (almost 305 million) numbers, 10 million times more than the DynaTAC 8000x.

Stats:

  • Storage: 30 numbers
  • Weight: 790g
  • Charge time: 10 hours
  • Price: $3,995 ($10,108.07 in 2018

World’s First Hard Drive

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IBM created the first commercially available hard disk drive – the RAMAC 350 – in 1956. The “Random Access Method of Accounting and Control” contained 50 24-inch platters, capable of storing just 3.75 megabytes of information (5 million 6-bit characters). The IBM RAMAC system, with 305 disk storage was available on lease for $3,200 per month – $29,647.76 or £23,007.40 per month today.

Earlier this year Samsung released the world’s largest solid state hard drive – boasting a whopping 30.72 terabytes of storage. – enough to store 5,700 HD movies.  It’s expected to cost more than $10,000 USD to purchase outright. The drive is able to hold 30720 MD of information – 8192 times more than the RAMAC 350 in its 2.5-inch format, at a third of the RAMAC’s monthly rental cost.

Stats:

  • Storage size: 3.75MB
  • Capacity: 5 million characters (later increased to 20 million)
  • Weight: 1 ton
  • Price: $3,200 per month ($355,773.18 per year adjusted to 2018 inflation)

World’s First Mouse

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Early computers had no mouse and users had to make do with a keyboard to control the whole machine. The world’s first mouse was conceived in 1964 by Douglas Engelbart and was made from wood and metal. It was dubbed the “X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System”. The cable protruding from the back of the device reminded Douglas of a mouse, and the name stuck.  Despite being quite cutting-edge for its time, the device wasn’t mass-produced but laid the path for further development.

Douglas Engelbart – creator of the world’s first mouse.

Xerox furthered the concept with their Xerox Alto product, considered by many to be the first modern computer that included a mouse. It hit the shelves in 1982. Two years later, the Macintosh 128K came to market, cementing the humble mouse on it’s road to wide-spread usage. The Macintosh 128K was the first computer ever made by Apple’s (then Macintosh).