Friday, October 25, 2019

Computer Hardware Progress in Video Game Consoles Over The Years


The following list shows the incredible improvement in video game consoles over the last 40 years. This steady improvement was driven by the same technological factors that drive Moore’s law. You can see the CPU, RAM, hard drive, and resolution specifications for over 30 game machines.

The first item on our list, the Magnavox Odyssey from 1972, can barely be considered a computer. It didn’t have a CPU, RAM, or a hard drive, and its video output was just a few pixels. But all of the other consoles can be compared to each other in a pretty straightforward way. As you can see CPU speed increased over one thousandfold, and RAM memory increased over a millionfold in the same span of time.

There may be some errors in this list, and I had to fudge a few of the numbers in order to create an apples to apples comparison. But I checked the numbers with multiple sources, so overall the list should be pretty reliable.

Video Game Console Specification Comparison


Year
Console
Computer
System
CPU
Speed

Hz
RAM
Memory

Bytes
Hard Drive
Capacity

Bytes
Screen
Resolution

Pixels
1972
Magnavox Od. 1
0
0
0
n/a
1977
Atari 2600
1,190,000
128
0
160 x 192
1979
Magnavox Od. 2
1,790,000
192
0
160 x 200
1980
Intellivision
2,000,000
1,456
0
159 x 96
1982
Atari 5200
1,790,000
16,000
0
320 x 200
1982
Colecovision
3,580,000
3,580
0
256 x 192
1985
Nintendo E. Sys.
1,790,000
2,000
0
256 x 240
1986
Sega Master Sys.
3,580,000
8,000
0
256 x 192
1986
Atari 7800
1,790,000
4,000
0
320 x 240
1989
Gameboy
4,190,000
8,000
0
160 x 144
1989
Turbo Grafx 16
7,160,000
8,000
0
256 x 239
1989
Sega Genesis
8,000,000
72,000
0
320 x 224
1991
Super Nintendo
3,600,000
128,000
0
160 x 144
1991
Neo Geo
12,000,000
64,000
0
320 x 224
1991
Game Gear
3,500,000
8,000
0
160 x 144
1992
Sega CD
12,500,000
8,000
0
320 x 224
1993
Atari Jaguar
26,600,000
2,000,000
0
320 x 224
1994
Sega Saturn
58,000,000
2,000,000
4,000,000
704 x 224
1995
Playstation
33,000,000
2,000,000
1,000,000
640 x 480
1996
Nintendo 64
93,000,000
4,000,000
32,000
720 x 576
1998
Gameboy Color
8,380,000
32,000
0
160 x 144
1999
Sega Dreamcast
200,000,000
              16,000,000
128,000
640 x 480
2000
Playstation 2
300,000,000
32,000,000
128,000
640 x 480
2001
Xbox
733,000,000
64,000,000
8,000,000,000
640 x 480
2001
Gamecube
486,000,000
24,000,000
16,000,000
640 x 480
2001
Gameboy Adv.
16,780,000
256,000
0
240 x 160
2005
Xbox 360
3.200,000,000
512,000,000
20,000,000,000
1920 x1080
2006
Playstation 3
3,200,000,000
512,000,000
12,000,000,000
1280 x 720 
2006
Nintendo Wii
729,000,000
88,000,000
512,000,000
640 x 480
2012
Nintendo Wii U
1,240,000,000
2,000,000,000
8,000,000,000
1920 x 1080
2013
Playstation 4
12,800,000,000
8,000,000,000
500,000,000,000
1920 x 1080
2013
Xbox One
14,000,000,000
8,000,000,000
500,000,000,000
1920 x 1080
2016
Playstation 4 Pro
16,800,000,000
8,000,000,000
1,000,000,000,000
3840 x 2160
2017
Xbox One X
18,400,000,000
12,000,000,000
1,000,000,000,000
3840 x 2160
2017
Nintendo Switch
8,000,000,000
4,000,000,000
32,000,000,000
1920 x 1080


Note that to obtain the newer, multicore systems’ CPU processing speed, the clock cycle was multiplied by the number of cores in the CPU. Of course this exaggerates speedup by failing to recognize Amdahl's law. Secondly, in a few early cases I combined VRAM with RAM where I thought is was appropriate, but in most I did not. Thirdly, note that hertz and bytes are expressed in a way that is not abbreviated. This allows a direct comparison and avoids using prefixes like kilo, mega, and giga.

This list makes me think back to fond memories of playing early video games in my childhood. I remember the day I first saw Super Mario Bros at age five on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The sights and sounds were dreamlike and hypnotic. It was a colorful cartoon with immersive music and sound effects that I could control myself (if I could just get the kid next to me to share the controller). Six years later at a different friend’s house I was introduced to the world of Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis. It was a beautiful, fast-moving landscape filled with dynamic and interactive objects, that by comparison was much more impressive.







The list above really sparks my imagination because I can look at the console specs of the first Nintendo, at just 2 kilobytes of RAM and compare it to that of the Sega Genesis at 72 kilobytes of RAM. These numbers illustrate the difference in constraints on those systems, and in turn, the difference in constraints on the programmers that created those worlds. I think it is fun to ask myself: “what does it mean that Sonic’s world was powered by over 30 times as much computer short-term memory?” Similarly: “what aspects of the graphical presentation are affected by the fact that the Genesis had more than four times the CPU clock speed?” I think the data in the columns and rows above give us an interesting basis to compare one gaming experience with another. Because we were immersed in these experiences from a young age I think that studying these comparisons can provide us with a better intuitive understanding of computer hardware.

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