Computers, Then and Now

For me, computers are an empowering force, a multiplier of my own abilities; for instance, if I had to write this article by hand, I probably simply wouldn’t bother. Computers make many things easier, and no few things become practical that would not, otherwise.

I first got into programming through using Hewlett-Packard’s excellent RPN programmable calculators, in the seventies, owning every scientific programmable model starting with the HP-25 up through the HP-50G. I taught myself to program Basic on an HP-85 computer at work in 1980 or 1981.

The first personal full-fledged computer that I owned was my venerable Kaypro 2, in 1982. I have owned many computers since then. Now-a-days, my primary computer is an Apple MacBook Pro 17“ which I purchased early in 2008. The Mac is without doubt the best computer I have ever owned, but I won’t get up on the podium and start preaching. This article is intended to point out just how far the art has advanced in the 28 years since 1982.


Kaypro – 8 bit Zilog Z-80A, running at 4.0 MHz
MacBook – 64 bit Intel Core 2 Duo, running at 2.33 GHz.
Since the MacBook is running two cores, it is hypothetically about 1200 times faster, but with 8 times the data path, so figure 9600 times faster. Not even thinking about bus speed increases which multiply this by a large factor.

Kaypro – 64K (yes, K)
MacBook – 3GB
The MacBook has 49,152 times the RAM.

Kaypro – (2) Single Sided Double Density 5 1/4” floppy discs – at 191K (yes, K) each. NO hard drive.
MacBook – 160 GB hard drive, not to mention two 500 GB back-up disks.
The MacBook can store about 439,194 times as much data at one time as the Kaypro could – without using the external drives.

The Kaypro screen was 9“ diagonal, green phosphor, text only, 25 line x 80 column. Yes, back in the day, text was all one size and all one color.
MacBook – 17” diagonal, lots of colors, wonderful graphics, supports GUI interface. (That’s Graphics User Interface, for those of you who never had to deal with a CLI interface – Command Line Interface).

Kaypro – 300 Baud dial-up modem. Used to connect to CompuServe, because the InterNet had not been invented!
MacBook – Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11n.
The MacBook is what the Star Trek guys call Ludicrously Fast, relatively speaking.

Kaypro – 26 pounds, 8.5“ x 18.75” x 16.375“ – it would hurt you.
MacBook – around 4.7 pounds, and 1” thick by just big enough for the display.

Operating System:
Kaypro – CP/M 2.2. Filled about 4K on one of the floppies. Command line interface. Roughly equal to early versions of DOS.
MacBook – OS X, currently at version 10.6.2. Arguably the most advanced personal OS in the world, bar none. (And, yes, I have used EVERY version of Windows since version 3.0).

After all of this, I do think the Kaypro had the best keyboard I’ve ever used.

There are many other scales of measurement that could be applied. But I think you can see that the reason computers hold my attention is that they have improved so quickly, both in ease of use and in power and utility. If the automobile had advanced nearly so rapidly, we’d be vacationing on Mars by now.

Anyway, just for fun; a look back.

I’ve had a lot of fun playing with this stuff.


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