[Vm-dev] historical memory sizes (was: PICs)

Eliot Miranda eliot.miranda at gmail.com
Sun Jul 29 20:42:04 UTC 2018

Hi Phil,

On Sun, Jul 29, 2018 at 12:38 PM, Phil B <pbpublist at gmail.com> wrote:

> Jecel,
> Sorry I can't do inline right now (stupid Gmail Android client must have
> 'fixed' something)...
> Ok, I wasn't clear that the study had that much lag (my fault for not
> reading it). What threw me for a loop (and still does) was the claim that
> the 'average' Sun machine had that little RAM at any time in the 90s.  I
> don't ever remember using a non-x86 Unix system in the 90s with less than
> 16M.  And I went into 1990 on 16mb PCs (I was a day 1 adopter of Win 3.0 as
> it was the easiest sell to get business people off of DOS... to all human
> beings who have suffered as a result: sorry, but as bad as Windows is/was,
> DOS was worse).
> An aside and minor correction to your point re: PCs: *most* people didn't
> have software that could use more than 1m+64k (himem weird feature).  But
> there were commonly available exceptions for example: iirc Lotus 123 v3 was
> still a DOS app but was able to use extended memory (subject to the
> constraint that only labels could go into extended memory) so you could
> effectively use up to 2-3 meg in a DOS-based spreadsheet.  And there were
> CAD systems and databases that could directly use up to 4-8meg or so via
> DOS extenders. There were also crude task switchers, TSRs, etc that
> clumsily allowed using more RAM.  It was pretty hellish, but possible to
> break the 1meg barrier in the DOS days.  And there was also Windows 286/386
> pre-1990.  (It was bizarre, you couldn't convince most business people to
> look at anything that wasn't DOS or later Windows usually citing cost as a
> reason (really it was fear of the unknown) but they'd spend a small fortune
> having their config.sys/autoexec.bat optimized to find an extra 50-100k of
> low memory so that they could keep limping along in DOS)
> No doubt RAM was rediculously expensive in the 80s and 90s (I remember
> paying ~$1000 for the last 128meg in that 192 meg machine) but Sun
> machines weren't cheap either.  That is why I was surprised that apparently
> so many people skimped on RAM in the workstation world... seems like
> putting a 4 cylinder engine into a high end luxury car.  The low end of the
> PC world on the other hand has always been terrible for skimping on
> everything.

I went to work at Rutherford Appleton Lab in 1978.  In 1979 or 80 the
Bubble Chamber Research Group bought a DEC 11/780, and in '80, '81 or
thereabouts we added, gasp, a whole extra megabyte to the machine.  We got
a quote from DEC for the megabyte, which was, you guessed it, £11,780.
Needless to say we ended up buying the memory from Megatech for
considerably less, but it was still several thousand pounds. Gulp.

> Thanks,
> Phil
> On Wed, Jul 25, 2018, 10:27 AM Jecel Assumpcao Jr. <jecel at merlintec.com>
> wrote:
>> Ben Coman wrote on Wed, 25 Jul 2018 12:36:18 +0800
>> > On 25 July 2018 at 08:00, Phil B wrote:
>> > > On Tue, Jul 24, 2018, 7:18 PM Jecel Assumpcao Jr. wrote:
>> > >>
>> > >> One of the papers in that list is the 1997 techical report "The Space
>> > >> Overhead of Customization". One of the reasons that Java won over
>> Self
>> > >> was that its simple interpreter ran on 8MB machines that most of
>> Sun's
>> > >> customers had while Self needed 24MB workstations which were rare
>> (but
>> > >> would be very common just two years later). Part of that was due to
>> > >> compiling a new version of native code for every different type of
>> > >> receiver even if the different versions didn't really help.
>> > >>
>> > >
>> > > Just had to interject... are you sure about the year and RAM sizes
>> below?
>> > >  If correct, was this a lowest common denominator RAM size or perhaps
>> a
>> > > report from several years earlier?
>> Self 3/4 was indeed from 1993 to 1994 while they paper that did that
>> space analysis was from 1997. The decision to drop Self and TCL in favor
>> of Java was from late 1994 and cited the installed base at that time,
>> not the machines that were being sold then.
>> > > I remember in 1997 (might have been early '98) buying a Sun
>> Ultrasparc 2
>> > > with 256MB RAM for work (for a workstation, not our servers which had
>> far
>> > >  more) and having 192MB RAM in one of my machines at home.  Seems
>> > > strange that 'most' of Sun's customers would be at 8 meg in that
>> timeframe
>> > > as 16-32 was fairly common even on PCs on the low end of what I was
>> working
>> > > with.
>> >
>> > I got curious...
>> > 1993 = 66-MHz machine 16MB RAM
>> > 1997 = 233-MHz machine 64MB RAM
>> > 1999 = 500-MHz machine 128MB RAM
>> > https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2390914,00.asp
>> When I talk to students about researching computer history, I always
>> caution them to take old magazines with a grain of salt. I point out
>> that these tend to focus on the very best products and not what typical
>> people actually bought. If they looked at car magazines, for example,
>> they might conclude that in 1978 everone was driving around in Ferraris
>> and BMWs.
>> And like I said above, you have to take into account that most computers
>> at any moment in time are older models and not what is being sold then.
>> Though we like to make graphs that show smooth growth in computer
>> history, that isn't always the case. For disks, for example, we got
>> stuck with 5 and 10MB for nearly half a decade before stepping up to
>> 20MB (and then a quick jump to 30MB with the switch from MFM to RLL).
>> Soon after that an exponential growth started that is still going on
>> today.
>> In the same way, two factors slowed down memory size growth between the
>> late 1980s and early 1990s. One was the antidumping actions by the US
>> against Japanese companies and on PCs there was a problem that people
>> didn't have software that could use more than 1MB even if they were
>> buying machines with 4MB. Workstations and Macs (and Ataris and Amigas)
>> didn't have that problem nor did PCs after Windows 3.1 become popular.
>> -- Jecel

best, Eliot
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