March 12th, 2005


The good old days were mostly just old...

Seeing a recent LJ entry from jmaynard put me on a chain of free association that reminded me of this...

Last night there was yet another CompUSA special sale, this one honoring its being twenty-one years since the company's beginning. I bought a USB flash drive, of modest capacity by today's standards—128 megabytes—but at $9.95 without having to wait for a !@#$!%! rebate, I couldn't pass it up. Various Linux LiveCDs let you keep your home directory on a flash drive, so you can schlep your settings and some data files with you and use Linux wherever you go that people will let you reboot.

This USB flash drive is barely larger than a stick of Dentyne gum, and well over a third of that is the outer case and the USB connector.

Flashback to 1980. The S-100 bus was the big thing for what were then called microcomputers, though other buses, e.g. the SS-50 bus, were technically superior (and the CPUs on the SS-50 bus, notably the Motorola 6809, were superior, too...but that's a story for another time). What folks were drooling over then was an S-100 bus card available in kit form from a company called Ithaca Intersystems (in Ithaca, New York, of course...). For a mere $1000, you would get a kit for a card that held 64 kilobytes of DRAM and instructions on how to assemble it.

Let's ignore what your labor and time are worth for now. For 100 times as much money, you could get 1/2048th as much memory. So memory is 204,800 times cheaper now than it was then?

Not quite. 1980 dollars are worth more than 2005 dollars. The web site I found wouldn't go past 2003, but a 1980 dollar is worth $2.23 in 2003 dollars, so scale that 204,800 up by at least a factor of two.

OTOH, maybe it's not fair to compare flash memory with DRAM. CompUSA recently had a deal on 512 megabytes of PC2700 DDR RAM: $60 after rebate...but let's go with a non-rebate price. Mushkin has 512 MB of PC2700 (CL2) for roughly $89. So...for around 11 times the money, you could get 1/8192nd as much memory. That's only around 90,000 times cheaper, or roughly 180,000 times cheaper if you consider inflation. Not quite as impressive.

(Too bad the prices of housing or transportation haven't gone down by a factor of 100,000 or so.)
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