Windows update required as much computation as all scientific analysis through what year?

A recent Windows 10 Creators Update ran for roughly one hour on my desktop PC. The boot drive is an SSD and therefore I don’t think that much of the time was spent waiting for the hard drive. I don’t think that the update process per se requires much network access because the operating system told me that it had already downloaded the update. In any case, the computer is hard-wired to Verizon FiOS at 75 Mbps so there can’t have been too much network delay.

The CPU is an Intel CORE I7 5820K clocked at 3.3 Ghz. This machine has 6 cores. If we assume that an average of 3 of the cores were busy for the entire hour, that is equivalent to all of the scientific computation done through what year?

Instructions done in one second: 3 cores times 3.3 billion = roughly 10 billion instructions (the i7 is at roughly one instruction per cycle?). Instructions done in one hour: 36 trillion (3.6×10^13).

Good old days: The IBM 360/95 that was still kind of exciting when I worked on the Pioneer Venus project at NASA did 3.8 million instructions per second (Wikipedia). It would have taken 9.5 million seconds to run 36 trillion instructions on the IBM 360/95. That’s about 110 days continuously. So plainly by 1968 when the IBM 360/95 had been delivered to Goddard Space Flight Center there had already been more than 36 trillion instructions run.

How about the IBM 7090 workhouse circa 1960? Wikipedia says it could do 100,000 floating point operations per second. If the i7 can do floating point instructions at the same speed as other instructions (a big assumption? I’m not sure that Web page JavaScript is bound by FLOPS), it would take the room-sized mainframe roughly 10 years to execute 36 trillion instructions.

So I’m going to guess that my latest Windows update took roughly as much computation as the first 11 years of modern computing (start with EDSAC in 1949 and through 1960). Not all of that was done for scientific purposes, though, so maybe 1949-1962 is a better estimated period?

Readers: Corrections? Better ideas?

8 thoughts on “Windows update required as much computation as all scientific analysis through what year?

  1. Pretty sure the time was spent downloading ads to jam into the system tray. Bet your 360 couldn’t do that!

  2. Another interesting question: define X all the computation time spent updating all windows installs in on 2016. What is the first year in which the total number of computations done by mankind up to that point equalled X?

  3. The newer versions of Windows scan all your personal documents for keywords and possible nefarious info, then send the results back to the mothership in Redmond where it is sold to advertisers and alphabet agencies. It takes a lot of cpu power to violate that much privacy.

  4. A case I recently observed for myself was a Thinkpad x270 running Windows 10 Professional. Its network performance was about 60% of that shown by a 6 year old x201i running Linux. After booting the newer machine from a USB drive with Debian, it matched the speed of the older machine. So one answer to your question

    > Better ideas?

    is “run another operating system”. Perhaps the “network effect” prevents this. Conformism has costs as well as benefits.

  5. I just bought an XBox One S and put all my old compatible Xbox 360 games into it. Now it requires only 100GB of updates. The update will be running for the next week over my 5Mb/s connection.

  6. God I don’t miss Windows, but Norton is actually what pushed me over the edge. I had a corrupted hard drive and bought “big boy’s Norton” attempting to recover some of the data. After that didn’t work I decided to move the expensive Norton to my new Windows install. Norton ($169?) REFUSED to install. I got so pissed I picked up the phone and ordered a 2005 Apple Mini to replace my desktop tower. Now happy with a 2012 MacBook Pro and a little Acer laptop to futz around in Linux.

    Windows is like Wells Fargo, even if its not criminal why would I do business with it?

  7. Just did that update on a laptop with SSD. It took hours (OK I wasn’t watching the whole time and it was waiting for a reboot a couple of times.) Worried at first, I fired up the network status panel and task manager CPU graph. After downloading over 4GB which took a while on my DSL connection, for the rest of the time it used very little CPU, network and as far as I could tell disk bandwidth. Who knows what it was doing most of that time??

  8. I’m guessing, but probably a lot of the time Windows spends talking to itself, via interrupt calling and thread processing. Since the cache memory on modern CPUs is a tiny fraction of the available RAM, a bloated operating system spends a lot of flushing the cache and fetching DLLs. A leaner operating system would obviate much of this wasted processing time. I am not aware of diagnostic tools showing how much of the cache is used during this process.

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