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My first PC and some interesting and silly numbers

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 08 August 2011 | Category: The old days

The speed that technology moves nowadays is amazing. Smartphones would have been looked upon almost as magic only a decade ago (in fact I still think there is some sort of enchantment going on!).

Now, I'm old enough to remember when things were not quite as high tech as they are today, although at the time of course, what we had was leading edge. My first business which I started in 1986, produced 35mm slides for business presentations - thousands of them! Clients would fax us a hand-drawn brief and we would use a state-of-the-art computer graphics system to draw the slides on-screen and then send them by modem to an imaging company who would produce the slides and send them back to us by courier. (Later we would get our own imaging system at a cost of £40,000).

The system we used was made by a company called Autographix and it used an Apple IIe as its main computer allied to a graphics box which was the size of a large desktop computer. The Apple had no hard disk, just 3 x 5¼ inch floppy disk drives, two that were responsible for the system and one that stored the files we were producing. Each disk had a capacity of 360Kb. You would need 22,000 of these to store everything on my phone.

There were two fonts available, one serif and one sans-serif, in a choice of 6 sizes and the colour palette consisted of 64 colours. When you typed text on the screen a rectangle would appear to show where the text was going to be placed.

The modem that we used to send the files to the imaging centre ran at a speed of 300 bits per second. Today's broadband speeds of 10Mbits per second are therefore over 33,000 times faster than my old modem. To have sent a typical MP3 file on that modem would have meant hanging around for 29½ hours.

Where the numbers really get silly though is when we start talking about costs, especially if we talk about a cost / storage ratio. This first system cost me £7,500. That's £20,833 per megabyte of storage. A 64Gb iPad 2 today typically costs about £559. That's 0.87 pence per megabyte of storage. That means that my first system was 2,394,635 times more expensive than an iPad 2! Or, if you want to get into real fantasy land, a system with the storage of an iPad in 1986 would have cost just under £18 billion and that doesn't include inflation!