Why is the number of transistors in a computer important?


#1

Question

In the context of this exercise, why is the number of transistors in a computer important?

Answer

The number of transistors in a computer is important because it correlates to a computer’s performance.

The main functionality of a transistor is to switch or to amplify electronic signals. These seemingly simple tasks are what makes things such as binary logic operations and ultimately computing possible. With more transistors, more of these actions can take place, at the same time. This is important because computers tend to do things in parallel, so more transistors will correlate to improvements in functionality and speed.

As the number of transistors grows over time, this means more powerful computers, and the ability for programmers to solve more difficult and complex tasks and problems. These tasks and problems may be in fields such as health, education, science, travel, and many others that require the use of computing.


#2

It takes six transistors, or at least did originally in RCA CMOS RAM back in 1968, to store one BIT in memory. That means 48 for a single byte.

RCA COS/MOS 288-bit RAM Array 1968. Gift of Richard Ahrons

My TIMEX Sinclair had 4KB of RAM. That’s 48 times 4 times 1024 transistors.

48   == 2 ** 4  * 3
4    == 2 ** 2
1024 == 2 ** 10
     => 2 ** 16 * 3
     == 196 608

Nearly two hundred thoursand transistors for four kilobytes of RAM.

If your computer has 64 GB of RAM, that’s 48 times 64 times 2 ** 30.

48    ==  2 ** 4 * 3
64    ==  2 ** 6
1GB   ==  2 ** 30
      =>  2 ** 40 * 3
      ==  3 298 534 883 328

And that’s just the RAM. What about screen and audio memory? Buffers? Caches?

How many transistors are involved just keep the clock working?

Bottom line is we are in the age that could not have been predicted when this technology was newly formed. The number of generations since this CMOS was introduced is many. It all started with 288 bits and gradually snowballed from there.

This level of integration would have cracked Enigma in hours/days as opposed to weeks/months in the Second World War. Imagine all those transistors were vacuum tubes back then. How many bits of memory could they even keep alive back then? And how much space would it take to store one kilobyte of RAM? Integration brought things from building size to room size to refrigerator size to bread box size to toaster size to coaster size to postage stamp size to pin head size to microdot size in a matter of decades.

Now we have quantum computing that is using extremely low temperatures and super computers to perform tasks that used to take months in picoseconds. It is all thanks to the transistor and the logic gates that emerged from that technology.


Aside

Computer makers were thinking about system overhead, even back then and probably designed the extra 32 bits into the chip for the system to use, giving us the conventional 256 bits. Not to mention how convenient the 10, 10, 10, 10 pin configuration worked out for all the taps. That gives us enough room for eight four-bit registers, or four eight-bit registers, or two sixteen-bit registers on each 256 bit block of memory. For addressing this would be most useful.

Learners today have no idea the minutae of the past. They have in their hands the progenations of it. We could never have conceived this back in the day, but secretly wianted it. Hence, we have it. Also hence, ‘Careful what you wish for.’

It is because of computing ability such as this that we have GPS tracking and Amazon, UBER and LYFT, Google and Facebook, to name just the apex of the technological pyramid. Grab on and don’t let go.