Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Computational Speed Bumps in (My) History

As the owner of a new Retina MacBook Pro, I've been happily surprised with its speed: The combination of Adobe Photoshop CS 6 and the new MacBook is over 100 times faster than CS 5 on 2008 era Mac Pro (tower)! CS 6 was a major speed improvement, as is the new MacBook Pro. The combination is breathtaking.

It made me think about other massive speed bumps I've seen in my career:

  • A Pixar image computer attached to a Symbolics Lisp machine (~1988): near immediate warping of 1K by 1K image -- this is back when doing a histogram of a 256x256 image took a noticeable amount of time.
  • A Mac Iici running MCL (Macintosh Common Lisp): 10 X faster (in floating point!) than a Symbolics 3670, at a 20th of price (~1992)!
  • A Sun Enterprise 4500 with 12 x 400 MHz SPARC processors (~1998), able to run 10 Tomcat instances and serve hundreds of users without slowing down, when our last server had trouble with one (admittedly massive) Perl/CGI script.
  • The last Mac G5 tower (2005?) which felt almost as fast as the above Sun 4500 (albeit with one user ( plus database, plus IDE)).
  •  And the one that prompted this post: Photoshop on the new Retina MacBook Pro (2012): lens blur of a 10 megapixel image going from over a minute to immediate!

 All of these involved software changes as well, and admittedly are task level benchmarks than processor or software benchmarks -- but tasks are what matter in the end. 

 Another point of note: both the first and last items on the list result from taking advantage of specialized graphics processors, that was a core change in movie from Photoshop CS 5 to Photoshop CS 6,  and of course the Pixar itself was a graphics processor.

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