Roy Longbottom Pits 1976's Cray-1 Supercomputer Against the Raspberry Pi Single-Board Computer Range

No prizes for guessing which comes out on top.

Gareth Halfacree
6 months ago β€’ HW101 / Retro Tech

Developer Roy Longbottom, who has been personally benchmarking computer systems large and small for more than 50 years, has published a look at how the venerable Cray-1 supercomputer stacks up against modern devices of a considerably smaller scale: the Raspberry Pi family of single-board computers (SBCs).

"In 1978, the Cray-1 supercomputer cost $7 million, weighed 10,500 pounds and had a 115 kilowatt power supply. It was, by far, the fastest computer in the world," Longbottom writes of the device, designed as the flagship product of Seymour Cray's high-performance computing company. "The Raspberry Pi costs around $70 (CPU board, case, power supply, SD Card), weighs a few ounces, uses a five watt power supply and is more than 4.5 times faster than the Cray 1."

Longbottom isn't throwing that "4.5 times" figure out there without careful consideration: he's been benchmarking computer systems for more than 50 years, including the development of stress tests used by the UK Government for acceptance trials of computer systems including the Cray-1. "In 2019 (aged 84)," he adds, "I was recruited as a voluntary member of Raspberry Pi pre-release Alpha testing team. my 2022 contribution being for the Raspberry Pi Pico W."

Longbottom's testing uses tools developed for these stress tests, Linpack, Whetstone, and Livermore loops, to compare the Cray-1's performance to the original Raspberry Pi Model B, a single-core Arm 1176JZF-based device running at 700MHz β€” a big step up from the Cray-1's 80MHz, which was the height of performance when it was designed in 1975. The result: a device which outperforms its grandparent by between 1.6 and 15.7 times.

The same benchmark tests show even bigger gains for newer devices in the Raspberry Pi family, as you'd expect: the Raspberry Pi 400, the newest device in Longbottom's performance table, showed a performance gain of up to 95.5 times the Cray-1's results β€” in a device which fits on the palm of your hand, rather than becoming a very expensive piece of uncomfortable office furniture.

Longbottom's full benchmark report, which includes comparisons to various popular Android devices and Intel and AMD processors ranging from the Intel Core i5-1135G7 to the AMD 80386, is available on his website.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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