Monday, May 20, 2024
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QuickCheck: Are modern smartphones more powerful than old supercomputers?


Smartphones are one of the many marvels of modern technology. While these handheld gadgets started out as a simple communication device, they have become an important part of our daily lives and it is almost impossible to function in society without a smartphone nowadays.

In contrast, another technological marvel – supercomputers – are practically inaccessible to the average person.

Their name is self-explanatory: supercomputers are high-performance computers used in computationally intensive fields such as aerospace engineering, nuclear research and quantum mechanics.

Supercomputers have been in use for decades, perhaps most famously being used to guide the very first moon landing.

One would assume that even the earliest supercomputers boast astonishing computing power both unimaginable and unnecessary to the average Joe.

However, is it true that modern smartphones are far more powerful than the supercomputers of

yesteryear?

VERDICT:

TRUE

In today’s hyper-connected world, the next ‘latest and greatest’ is merely an update away.

With smartphone makers putting out new flagship models annually – and often introducing quality-of-life updates in between – it is easy for us to lose track of just how far and fast technology has come.

While the term ‘supercomputer’ still sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, such machines might as well be fossils compared to the smartphone in your pocket, and this even extends to the massive machines of the 1990s.

To give you an example of how vast the difference in performance is, NASA’s guidance computer for the Apollo 11 mission which put Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969, had 2.048 Megahertz of processing power.

In comparison, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip used by most flagship Android phones in 2019 boasts 2.84 Gigahertz of processing power.

For those of you who need a refresher, Mega- means 1,000,000 while Giga- is a whopping 1,000,000,000!

According to ZME Science, even a humble graphing calculator had more processing power than the Apollo-era supercomputer.

As physicist Dr Michio Kaku aptly put it, “Today, your cell phone has more computer power than all of NASA back in 1969, when it placed two astronauts on the moon.”

Even a much more recent machine – IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer, famed for beating world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997 – can’t measure up to older-generation smartphones, let alone the latest models.

Of course, both smartphones and supercomputers have developed exponentially since then.

Given these trends, perhaps it is not unreasonable to assume that the performance expected of a million-dollar CPU today will be the norm for a handheld device mere decades in the future.

Sources:

1. https://blog.adobe.com/en/publish/2022/11/08/fast-forward-comparing-1980s-

supercomputer-to-modern-smartphone

2. https://www.zmescience.com/feature-post/technology-articles/computer-

science/smartphone-power-compared-to-apollo-432/

3. https://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/space/mission-moon/article/Your-smartphone-is-

light-years-ahead-of-NASA-13757565.php

4. https://www.phonearena.com/news/A-modern-smartphone-or-a-vintage-supercomputer-





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