228,571 Floppies is a Lot of Floppies

By  |  Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 11:22 pm

People–especially people who are online–like reading funny factoids that show the dizzying rate of technological progress over the years. So I wasn’t completely shocked that a tweet of mine–“An iPhone 4 has more onboard memory than all the Apple II computers in the world as of 1980 put together”–turned out to be one of the most-retweeted items on Twitter today.

For those curious how I did the math:

  • In 1981, Apple published its first annual report–available here–which said that “Nearly 180,000 Apple II systems were shipped in 1981, more than twice as many as last year, increasing the installed base of Apple II systems to well over 300,000.”
  • The “1981” Apple referred to was a fiscal year from October 1980 through September 1981, so the total number of Apple II systems sold as of December 31st, 1980 was some figure (appreciably) below 300,000.
  • Apple II systems had a minimum of 4KB of memory and a maximum of 48KB. Since we don’t know the breakdown, we can err on the side of caution by assuming they all had a roomy 48KB for the sake of this exercise.
  • One 16GB iPhone has as much storage as 333,333 48KB Apple IIs–16,000,000,000/48,000–or more than existed on the planet as of the end of 1980.
  • Yes, I know that the “16GB” in a 16GB iPhone refers to flash memory, and I’m comparing it against the Apple II’s 48KB of RAM. (The iPhone 4 also has RAM–512MB of it–which I didn’t bother to factor in.) Purists, feel free to squawk…

Similar factoid, also popular on Twitter: a 32GB thumb drive stores as much data as a stack of Apple II floppy disks as tall as the Golden Gate Bridge. (That’s 228,571 140KB floppies–750 feet of ’em–if you’re counting.)

I’ve been doing the math on new tech versus old tech for a simple reason: I was researching a story I’ve been writing for Discover Magazine‘s upcoming thirtieth anniversary issue. Fun!



6 Comments For This Post

  1. Max Says:

    Apples and Oranges. The real RAM/RAM comparison would not have allowed for the same headline, but is impressive and IMO meaningful where this is not.

  2. Max Says:

    Intensedebate seems to not like my squawk tags…

  3. the Goat Says:


    You seem to be an intelligent person. Why would you ever compare the amount of RAM in a device against the amount of non-volatile memory in a different device?

    You even admit it is a bogus comparison in the article. And the worst thing is if you compared the amount of RAM in both devices it still would have been an impressive number. But not "more than existed on the planet. . ."

  4. ediedi Says:

    What's more impressive is that the iphone (or any recent smartphone), with 800Mhz-1Ghz processor and 512 Mb of RAM is better specced than a beautiful emac i used until recently – a G3 with 386Mb RAM.

  5. crazy Says:


    Factoid – an unverifiable piece of information repeated so often that it is considered to be fact.

    The definition of the use of “factoid” in this article has become, itself, a factoid.

    Long live the English language.

  6. Benj Edwards Says:

    I have to agree that comparing RAM with mass storage space is not a good idea. Sure, the iPhone doesn’t have 16 GB of RAM, but if you wait a few years, common desktop PCs will have that much standard (and high-end PCs have it now). That would have made for a more intellectually honest comparison.

    Still, I give ample credit to Harry for cooking up entertaining technology comparisons like this.