Science Questions

Are newer computers more efficient than older ones?

Sun, 6th Feb 2011

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Question

Michael Finley asked:

Are newer computers more efficient than older ones, like a fridge or a furnace?

 

How do I know when to get a new PC or Mac?

 

Answer

We put this question to Mike Muller of ARM...

Mike -   There’s no doubt, newer computers are more efficient than older ones and they get better every year.  It’s the perennial technology question of, “If you wait just a bit longer, you can get one that goes faster, takes less power, and will be a bit cheaper.”  But you can always wait forever...

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Michael Finley asked the Naked Scientists: Are newer computers more efficient than older ones, like a fridge or a furnace? How do I know when to get a new PC or Mac? What do you think? Michael Finley, Sun, 6th Feb 2011

I would have thought that any increase in efficiency is minor and the latest computers with more and more memory etc might actually consume more power. Pumblechook, Sun, 6th Feb 2011

If you measure efficiency in some sensible way like (for example) the number of floating point multiplications per Watt of power then they are getting more efficient all the time. Actually, by any sensible measure, efficiency has improved vastly over the years and is continuing to do so. A modern computer may use a similar amount of power to a computer 20 years ago but you can now do over 1000x the amount of calculations per second compared to the old one. graham.d, Sun, 6th Feb 2011

There are many aspects to the question.

The computers of the 1960 through early 1980's were resource HOGS.
So in that sense, a modern laptop is more efficient than a room full of computer circuits.

One of the big changes in microcomputers is the ability to push more power into the CPU.

So, the first IBM PC's all used passive cooling of their 4.77 MHZ CPU.
The new 3 GHZ CPU's almost all require active cooling due to much higher power consumption.

Likewise, I would think there would be a power consumption shift from MGA to VGA to SVGA to XGA to UXGA, WUXGA....

Should I add in teletypes?
CliffordK, Sun, 6th Feb 2011

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