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Using The Twinkie Scale for iPhone 5S -vs- Atari 2600

So, I’m watching Warren Robbinett’s Post-Mortem of the development of Adventure for the Atari 2600 console (because I’m a game developer, and that’s how I roll.  Plus, I grew up playing stuff like Adventure on the 2600, so it’s fascinating to me.)  It’s interesting to see exactly how much things have moved on in the last 36 years since Adventure was published.  People talk about things like “my phone has more power than the computers that put a rocket on the moon.”  That’s true – of course, my phone has more power than my previous phone, so it’s really not that practical to use that as a metric.  So, we’re going to use the Ghostbuster’s Standard:  Twinkie’s.

This Twinkie Represents A Standard Atari 2600 game from the mid 1970's.
This Twinkie Represents A Standard Atari 2600 game from the mid 1970’s.

Image in this Twinkie is an Atari 2600 game.  The Atari 2600 was pretty weak – some quick specs (don’t worry – you don’t have to understand them just yet, we’ll get into what they mean in a moment, but without being particularly techie about it.

Atari 2600 used cartridges, so ROM was a bit variable, depending on the game.  So, roughly:

  • 1.2 Mhz processor
  • 4096 Bytes of ROM
  • 128 Bytes of RAM
  • 128 Colors
  • 160 x 196 pixel display (If you pulled a lot of tricks – and TV’s weren’t particularly high-rez to start with)

Now, let’s compare it to my phone, an iPhone 5S 16GB

  • 1.3 Ghz Processor (Dual-Core)
  • 16GB RAM (In this case, I’m simplifying it and not mentioning ROM)
  • 16+ Million Colors
  • 1136 x 640 pixel display

First off, the processor – the engine that drives the show – isn’t just different between being 1.2 Mhz -vs- 1.3 Ghz, being JUST faster.  Processors are – and this a technical term – buttloads more advanced.  The iPhone’s processor is basically two processors on a chip, and the Atari’s is just one.  So, you might think “OK, so it’s really 1.3 Ghz times 2.”  Well… no.   At one time, you’d end up with someone quoting how many Operations Per Second it would do (actually, Million Operations Per Second – MOPS) as a gage of speed.  With the Atari 2600, that was half a million operations per second.

Problem is, no one uses that as a guide any more.  There’s no real compatible guide between generations of hardware anymore – mobile phones are tested against a completely different set of standards, since instead of just a CPU, it’s got quite a few specialized segments that handle individual things that old Atari 2600 programmers would have had to do by hand (for instance:  a GPU – Graphics Processing Unit – that handles 2D and 3D graphics operations.)

So, the Twinkie is a pretty good choice for representing the change – it’s big, sort of flexible, and really, really, imprecise.  Great for handling representations of stuff that’s apples and oranges.  (I’m not sure what my fascination with food is at the moment.)

Let’s look at a single Twinkie as being a computer with 4096 Bytes of combined RAM and ROM (an approximation).  That makes the iPhone’s RAM 41,943 TIMES the amount of RAM + ROM in the Atari 2600.  Nice and simple (as long as we don’t dig too deeply).  That means, the same Twinkie scaled up to an iPhone would be roughly 13,981 feet long, 5,242 feet wide, and 5,242 feet tall.

Cool.  So, let’s look at horsepower.  I’m going for a really, really simplified scale here – we’ll just go for speed (1.2 Mhz -vs- 1.3 Ghz), number of cores (1 -vs- 2), and bits (8 Bit -vs- 64 bit), all added together for a horrible addition to our Twinkie scale.  The iPhone is, based on this, 8,880 times as fast.  Adding those two scientific sets of numbers together, we end up with the iPhone 5S 50,823 times as fast as the Atari 2600.

So, what about the computer that put a man on the moon?  It’s a 2.0 Mhz machine with 8,184 Bytes of RAM and 155,465 Bytes of ROM (about 19K).  I’ll leave Twinkie calculations as an exercise for the reader. But, here’s a meme pic of the Twinkie scale.

The Twinkie Scale from Atari 2600 (1977) to iPhone 5S (2013)
The Twinkie Scale from Atari 2600 (1977) to iPhone 5S (2013)

 

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