The Hidden Computing Power of Your Phone
In 2020, there were over 6 billion smartphones in the world, making them three times more popular than personal computers. Global usage shows no signs of slowing down, and is estimated to grow to be over 7 billion by 2024. Despite widespread poverty, a study from the Pew Research Center showed that ⅓ of the population of developing nations owned smartphones.
Though still called “phones”, today’s devices are more akin to mini computers. The Central Processing Unit (CPU) of the iPhone X, referred to as the “A10” chip, is as fast as the CPU of an Intel laptop. A modern phone is even faster than the computer on NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover (with 256 GB of ROM, the rover’s power is roughly equal to an iMac from 1998). With Moore’s Law and the transition from single to multi-core processors, the capabilities of smartphones are only set to expand.
What is Moore's Law?
The rapid rise of cellular computing power can be attributed to Moore’s Law. The rule gets its name from co-founder of Intel Gordon Moore, who believed that the number of transistors on a microchip would double approximately every two years. In other words, the processing power of computers tends to grow exponentially. Moore’s prediction has largely held true over the past several decades. In addition to more processing power, the ability to fit more transistors in the same area lowered manufacturing costs. The result has been a series of rapid advances in computer technology and the proliferation of computers in a wide range of fields.
Moore’s Law is often cited as a driving force behind the rapid pace of technological advancement in the latter half of the 20th century and the early 21st century. It has played a role in the development of personal computers, smartphones, and other forms of digital technology, and has contributed to the increasing availability and affordability of these devices.
Between 2000 and 2009, the number of transistors per chip increased from 37.5 million to 904 million. However, some experts believe that Moore’s Law may hit its limits as transistors become the size of atoms. There is ongoing research and development into new technologies that could extend the capabilities of microchips beyond the predicted limits. Early smartphone chips were 10 nanometers, and as of 2022 many smartphone chips are 5 nanometers and growing smaller.
Modern Smartphones vs. The Computer That Took Us to the Moon
The smartphone in your pocket is exponentially more powerful than the computer used by NASA on the famous Apollo 11 mission in 1969. The Apollo guidance computer (AGC) was developed by the MIT Instrumentation Lab in the 1960s for use in the Apollo program, a series of missions dedicated to sending astronauts to the Moon. The AGC was a pioneering computer system that was installed on every Apollo command module (CM) and Apollo Lunar Module (LM). It was an impressive feat of engineering for its time. However, when it comes to ROM, a modern smartphone can have as much as 256 GB of memory, while the AGC capped out at just 2048 words.
In terms of computing power, the AGC was limited to around 100,000 instructions per second, using a specialized computer language called “Lunar Module Assembly Language.” Smartphones, on the other hand, are equipped with central processing units (CPUs), which can execute billions of instructions per second using more advanced programming languages and operating systems. As a result, the clock alone on iPhone 6 is 32,600 times faster than the best computers of the Apollo era.
Modern Smartphones vs. Older Personal Computers
Modern smartphones are also significantly more powerful than older computers, including those from the early days of personal computing. Today’s pocket sized smartphones are almost a thousand times faster than the mid-’80s Cray-2 Supercomputer. This is due to advances in microprocessor technology and other hardware components.
The transition from single to multi-core processors in the early 2000’s played a significant role in making smartphones more efficient. Computers with multiple cores have the ability to run programs in parallel. A relatively new smartphone may have a central processing unit (CPU) with 4 to 8 cores, or processing units, that are capable of executing billions of instructions per second. In contrast, older computers tended to use single cores, which were limited to executing a few hundred thousand instructions per second. In addition to advances in hardware, modern smartphones also benefit from better software, operating systems, sophisticated algorithms and optimization techniques.
How Powerful are Modern Smartphones?
The computing power of smartphones varies depending on the specific model and hardware configurations. In general, modern smartphones are equipped with multi-core central processing units (CPUs), as well as graphics processing units (GPUs) designed to handle graphics-intensive tasks such as gaming and video playback.
RAM vs ROM
Other hardware components that contribute to computing power include Random Access Memory (RAM), Read Only Memory (ROM), and various sensors and peripherals. These components work together to allow smartphones to perform a full range of tasks such as internet browsing, messaging, playing games, and running apps.
RAM refers to the “running” memory that is used to play games, movies, or applications. In contrast, ROM is the “permanent” memory that holds the software computers need to operate. In the early 2020’s, most smartphones range from 8 to 256 GB of ROM and 2 to 12 GB of RAM. Many smartphones allow users to track the amount of RAM/ROM that various applications are using. Examples of the RAM memory used by popular apps include:
- YouTube – 230 MB
- Instagram – 700 MB
- WhatsApp – 264 MB
- Netflix – 512 MB on a Windows
- PC, 1 GB on a Mac
- Fortnite – 8 GB
The greater the RAM, the better a device will handle graphic intensive video games and high-definition streaming. As games have become more sophisticated, RAM needs have increased. Some high-end smartphones are more powerful than entry-level PCs. However, it’s important to note that the specific computing requirements of different tasks and applications can vary widely, and the amount of computing power needed for a particular task will depend on a range of factors.
Despite great advances, all computers are ultimately only as powerful as their RAM. ByteNite’s video encoding platform harnesses the power of grid computing to escape this limitation. By dividing labor intensive work like encoding and 3D rendering into chunks that are processed in parallel, ByteNite is a “virtual supercomputer”.
With smartphone power growing exponentially, and new models continuously around the corner, consumers face a problem – how to dispose of their older smartphones. Older models tend to depreciate quickly. While cars lose 40% of their resale value in the first three years, smartphones lose 38 – 76% of their original value within the first year. Though no longer on the cutting edge, these devices still have substantial computing power, and can be put to use through projects like ByteNite.
Leave a Reply