GUI Bytes

Twenty Years Ago, Part 2 - RAM-page

part 1 - Intro

"Data expands to fill the space available for storage" - Parkinson's Law of Data.

Computers use a few different types of memory. Some are volatile - information is lost when the power goes off - and some are permanent. The first type is used to store things that change while you work, while the second type is used to save your work for future use. Random access memory (RAM) is where the computer does its thinking. The operating system goes in first, followed by programs, and then whatever calculations and data are needed for your work.

Paper on steroids

I saved a single page of text in a few different formats to see how much space each would take. I don't recall exactly how much space a single page required on the QX-10, but it was about 2K.

Why are pages bigger now than they were twenty years ago? Because pages are a lot smarter now. Back then, you had twenty-six letters, ten digits, and a handful of special characters, plus bold or italic, and that was about all there was to work with. Today the letters can be super or subscript, different sizes, different colors, the background can have color, and we have automatic numbering, links, and so on. Even if you don't use any of those features, the document has to be ready to handle them; even though the text may look "normal", it still has all of those characteristics defined. It's just that most of them say "nothin' special here".

RAM tough

The QX-10 was an advanced machine in its day, with a whopping 256 kilobytes (K) of memory, four times as much as the IBM PC's 64K. That isn't much today, when a new computer will probably have 256 megabytes of RAM. To get a better idea of how much memory these computers have, let's think of the memory as pages, and do a little math.

First, we'll assume that the entire RAM of each computer can be used to store text pages. In fact this is not the case, because, as noted before, the memory is cluttered with all sorts of other stuff. Something called virtual memory also comes into play, but that may be the subject of another discussion.

The QX-10, with 256K of RAM, could hold about 130 pages. According to a reliable source, this would be enough for a small novel. Today, a computer with 256 meg of RAM would hold 130,000 pages - enough room for Tom Clancy to work on all of his books at once without breaking a sweat!

2003 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA, swolfe@bwbr.com 
on the web at www.CSI-MSP.org 


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