June 14th is the 50th birthday of UNIVAC, the first commercial
computer, predictor of the Eisenhower presidency, and host to the
first computer game. It was as big as a one-car garage and cost $1
WIRED has a writeup of the event, including a few performance
" The ancient behemoths were painfully slow, said
Russell Atkinson, principal scientist at Palo Alto Research Center.
"On the old computers, the fastest instruction would take 100
microseconds to complete," Atkinson explained. "Today we're talking
about small numbers, even less than a nanosecond. Look at the new
Pentium 1.7 Gigahertz chip. Every cycle on that machine takes about
.6 nanoseconds -- about the time it takes light to travel seven
In contrast, it would have taken the UNIVAC 1 about 100,000
nanoseconds -- or the time light travels 20 miles -- to process the
same information, Atkinson said."