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Computer RAM and Storage: How Far Have We Come?

Posted by Neil
May 31, 2016

computer RAM and storage

When one looks at the needs of modern computing tasks, there is one unavoidable consistency – the ever increasing demand for more memory (RAM) and storage. Be it digital photos, video content, operating systems, even video games, one thing is always the same – the latest and greatest will need more than that which came before when it comes to RAM to support the running application, and the storage on which to keep the item.

The Origins of RAM

Let’s take a walk down “memory lane” and take a look at how the requirements of RAM and storage have changed over time when it comes to operating systems and digital photography.

In the early days of Hire Intelligence, back in 1998, a cutting edge PC was powered by a Pentium 2 CPU running at a swift 233MHz supported by a standard configuration of 64MB RAM and a 2GB Hard Drive. Keep in mind, this was considered high end at the time and standard PC’s offered were about half those specs with only a 133MHz CPU, 32GB RAM and a 1.2GB Hard Drive.

The Windows Operating System of the day, Windows 95 (Windows 98 wasn’t readily available until the second half of 1998), required a minimum 4MB RAM and 50MB storage to operate. At this point in time, Hire Intelligence offered the Sony Digital Mavica Camera for rent which used 1.44MB 3.5” Floppy Disks for storage media and took 0.3 Megapixel (640×480 pixel) photos. Each photo required 72KB (0.072MB) so about 20 photos could fit on each floppy disk and the 2GB hard drive in the high-end PC outlined above could store over 27,000 photos even after allowing for storage of the operating system.

Fast forward just 8 years (when I joined the company) and a decent spec computer meant a 3GHz Pentium 4 CPU with 512MB RAM and 80GB of Hard Drive storage. Comparing that to 1998, we see CPU’s are running clock speeds 12 times faster, computers are using 8 times more RAM and the standard storage has increased by a massive 40 times!

Windows XP was the Operating System of choice and required 64MB RAM and 2.5GB Storage to operate. At this point in time, Hire Intelligence offered the Canon Ixus 60 6 Megapixel Digital Still Camera. This took photos at 2816×2112 pixel resolution and stored them on 32MB Secure Digital (SD) Card Media. Each photo would use approximately 1.4MB storage (so again approximately 20 able to be stored on the cameras media) but more than twice as many able to be stored on the computers 80GB drive even after allowing for the operating system.

Modern Day

Now compare to today. CPU evolution has somewhat gone off on a tangent since 2006 with multiple cores (think multiple processors in a single physical package) becoming the norm. A modern 3GHz CPU is quite high end but compared to the 3GHz CPU of 2006 will run at least two and possibly four cores as well as other modern technologies such as hyper threading and Turbo Boost making each core about 3.5 times more powerful than in 2006. Today 8GB RAM is pretty much standard so 16 times more than what was considered normal in 2006 and a 1TB hard drive is now considered standard (12 times larger than what was normal in ’06) but with individual drives of up to 6TB available.

Windows 10 is the incumbent operating system and requires at least 2GB RAM and 20GB of storage to run. Nowadays, digital cameras of over 24 megapixels are not uncommon with some mobile phones able to take digital photos of up to 20 megapixels. Hire Intelligence offers the Canon EOS 1200D Digital SLR Cameras. This unit has an 18 Megapixel sensor and utilizes 32GB SD card media. Each photo uses up to 35MB storage meaning that not even a single photo could be stored on the SD media available in 2006 but that almost 1,000 images can be saved on the current 32GB media and the 1TB drive in the modern PC can store almost 30,000 despite allowing for the Windows 10 operating system.

What we learn from the above is that while the RAM and storage requirements of the operating systems and digital photography have increased exponentially over the 18 years of the example, the RAM and storage on offer at the time has more than kept pace and with emerging technologies such as high capacity solid state drives and potential new technology such as 3D Optical storage, this trend is sure to continue.

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