History and Components of a Modern Mainframe Computer

Mainframe computers are crucial for some of the largest corporations in the world. Each mainframe has more than one modern processor, RAM ranging from a few megabytes to several-score gigabytes, and disk space and other storage beyond anything on a microcomputer. A mainframe can control multiple tasks and serve thousands of users every second without downtime.

The chief difference between mainframes and other computing systems is the level of processing that takes place. Mainframes are also different in terms of data bandwidth, organization, reliability, and control. Big organizations-banking, healthcare, insurance, and telecom companies, etc.-use mainframes for processing critical commercial data.

In this article, we discuss the evolution of mainframe computers and their components.

History of mainframe computers

IBM developed a crucial part of mainframe computing, the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC) for arithmetic operations, in 1944. From the late 1950s through the 1970s, several companies manufactured mainframes: IBM, Burroughs, RCA, NCR, General Electric, and Sperry Rand, for example. Since then, System/390 by IBM is the only kind of mainframe in use. It evolved from IBM’s System/360 in 1960.

An Early mainframe occupied a huge space. New technologies have drastically reduced the size and cost of the hardware. A current-generation mainframe can fit in a small closet.

Components of a modern mainframe computer

Like a PC, a mainframe has many components for processing data: operating system, motherboard or main board, processor, controllers, storage devices, and channels.

• Motherboard: The motherboard of a mainframe computer consists of a printed circuit that allows CPU, RAM, and other hardware components to function together through a concept called “Bus architecture”. The motherboard has device slots for input cards and cable interfaces for various external devices. Where PC motherboards use 32- or 64-bit buses, mainframes use 128-bit buses. General instructions regarding the internal architecture help the motherboard connect to the other devices and retrieve data using binary computation.

• Processor: A CPU acts as the central processing point in mainframe architecture and includes an Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU) for performing arithmetic calculations. It also works as a controller for the bus architecture and handles traffic and data requests. The processing power of mainframes is much higher compared to PCs, so that they can handle huge amounts of data.

• Storage devices: Storage devices are for entering, retrieving, storing, and recording data. Many are external devices, such as hard drives, tape drives, and punch card readers, all connected to terminals of the mainframe and controlled by the CPU. Their capacity for data storage can be hundred or even thousands of times that of a PC.

• Communication controllers: Communication controllers allow remote computers to access a mainframe. With the help of networks, LAN or WAN, communication controllers establish connections with various devices, perform data transmission over communication channels, and keep track of users at terminals.

• Channels: The “channels” are the cables used to connect the CPU and the main storage to other parts of the system and make sure that data is moved in a systematic way without losing its integrity.

Modern mainframes have advanced features such as expanded service management capabilities, cross-platform integration facilities, etc. and thus are suitable for critical data center operations. The cost of maintaining modern mainframes is much less compared to older models.

Bigger Differences Between Regular Computers and Gaming Computers

The Gap between Gamer PCs and Regular Computers is Growing

Traditionally, the difference between your average computers and gamer PCs has always been simple: your average computer was built with nearly outdated technology and your gamer PC was built the latest and greatest components. Now as technology is taking leaps and bounds in program and game design as well as in software development and application, computer hardware has had to be improved and innovated faster than ever before. Program developers are making their most creative and exotic imaginings become virtual reality on computer hardware that is years ahead of what average desktops are normally comprised. Gamer PCs have been built to bring to life on the monitor the developers’ best renderings of their imaginations.

Innovation

In order to keep up with developers’ and players’ demands for performance, advances in hardware have grown at an alarming rate, lengthening the gap between gamer PCs and regular computers by years. One of the largest differences when looking at the latest high-end gamer PC compared to a regular system is that the latest gamer PC has liquid cooling tubes which keep the CPU and graphics cards chilled and running faster. The lack of empty space is also quite obvious; whereas, in a normal desktop there is often glaring spaces of emptiness that don’t exist in its competition.

Visual Performance

Another conspicuous dissimilarity between normal desktop computers and gaming computers is the performance when playing programs like Crisis or Skyrim. The quality of play and visual performance is astounding on computers for gamers, especially when compared with the play and visual performance on a regular desktop system. The graphics cards in the comparison above are often completely incompatible to begin with. Not to mention the CPUs running them would also be on totally separate levels in term of processing speed and power.

Speed and Price

The speed and processing power of gaming computers would normally begin near the 3.0 GHZ range. This is where you might be able to reach if you were to try and overclock the CPU on an average desktop computer. An average desktop could cost anywhere from $800-$2,000, whereas a high-end performance machine could cost upwards of $10,000-$15,000 for a cutting edge, custom built, overclocked computer.

The differences between regular computers and gamer PCs has stretched and grown in every way including dollar signs. The most obvious difference, however, is simply in performance.

Audio Recording Computers: How Much Power Do You Need?

So, How Powerful Should My Recording Computer Be?

Well, this depends greatly on your needs. I started out in 2001 with a Pentium 3 550Mhz computer running Windows 98. Compared to my modern computer (which is still fairly modest) that computer was like something from the Flinstone’s with a little bird running on a treadmill to power it.

What Are Your Needs?

The power of your computer requirements for your recording computer are directly dependent on what you intend to do with it. Are you recording mostly live rock bands? Are you planning producing solo artists using samples to replace the entire band? How much of your work revolves around using VST Instruments?

For well over four years I recorded using Sonic Foundry Vegas 3.0. I used it like a tape machine with a little better editing features. I didn’t have much reason to switch. I was recording mostly rock and metal bands all in house. I was really quite pleased with Vegas. I could do pretty much everything I wanted to do. It turned out that Vegas was very efficient and never really maxed my computer out. Playing back high track counts in Vegas put most of the load on the hard drive and not so much on the CPU or RAM. I had several mixes that had well over 60 tracks. Vegas had no trouble with those.

I decided that I wanted to get back into midi again. I wanted to take advantage of the powers of samples, VST instruments, and the tremendous editing powers of midi sequencing. I switched to Cubase SX3. Now that I realize just how powerful Cubase SX3 is for a producer (I’m not just engineering anymore), I’m completely blown away. There is no going back to Vegas for me anymore. (Of course, I hear now that the latest version of Vegas has a sequencer, but I’ve never used it).

Cubase SX3 uses WAY MORE CPU power. WAY MORE! Every track I add, uses a little more CPU power. Most of this has to do with the tremendous direct monitoring capabilities that Steinberg’s Cubase SX3 utilizes. It’s very common for Cubase SX3 to run out of power and essentially lock up if I’m expecting too much from Cubase with a latency set super low. Cranking up the latency pulls the CPU load down drastically and then I find Cubase SX3 to be very reliable..

Sonic Foundry Vegas was extremely RAM friendly. I could open up 5 finished mixes at the same time and I probably wouldn’t even use 300 MB of RAM. Cubase SX3 is the exact opposite. It uses RAM like I go through coffee on a late night session. When I start firing up samples such as Toontrack’s DFH Superior (amazing drum samples), it’s clear that I need as much RAM as I can cram into my recording computer. One instance of DFH can provide you with the most natural sounding drums on the planet, but it can also use up 2GB of RAM without thinking about it. OUCH!! Luckily they have a “light” mode which I use when tracking and arranging. When the track is done, I convert the drums to wav files and they become much more computer friendly.

So if you are using samples, you had better have 2GB of RAM. Not all applications are as taxing as DFH Superior, but in general samples like to chew through the RAM without a conscience. So if you are producing songs for other people using s multitrack recorder / midi sequencer like Cubase SX3 or Sonar, you should get the most powerful computer you can afford. It will save you time, effort, and a few headaches. This means get the fastest processor you can afford and the most RAM your machine will hold. (Note: There is a point of diminishing return in Windows XP where adding more RAM doesn’t seam to do much good. Generally, 2 GB is considered about right by today’s standards). You will also want to check out the dual core processors that are out there now.

Powerful Computers Don’t Always Mean Better Recordings

There are many factors that make a recording great. A talented artist who happens to deliver a tremendous performance of a great song is what makes a recording great. There is no direct correlation between Ghz and goosebumps. (I consider goosebumps to be the ultimate musical accomplishment. If I get goosebumps, the song is amazing!) Having a more powerful computer means you can render a mixdown a little quicker. A faster computer means you can use more effects or effects that put higher CPU load. However, just keep in mind that it’s much more important to work with better artists and better songs.

The computer is just a tool. Just because a carpenter uses a drill that operates at a higher voltage doesn’t mean his construction is going to be any better than the next guy. It just means his drill have operates at a higher voltage. It’s important to realize that the computer is just a tool that you use to make recordings. It, in and of itself, has no direect artistic value.

I was attending a funeral a few months ago. One of the very first songs I had ever recorded in my life happened to be played. The power of that song was mind blowing! The entire crowd burst into tears with that one. This song was done on my Pentium 3 550Mhz computer years ago. I wish I could capture that kind of emotion and energy now with my Athlon 64 2800!!!

Latency, Monitoring, and CPU Power.

I’ve noticed in Cubase that it’s CPU load is directly related to the latency I’ve set in my M-Audio control panel. With latency on the fastest setting, Cubase SX3 will get tired pretty quickly. However, when I pump the latency up to 384ms, I find that I have much, much more CPU power left.

The only reason I would keep the latency turned down super low would be due to direct monitoring within Cubase. If I was to use an external mixer and split the recorded signal off before it even ran into my soundcard, I would be able to keep the latency set much higher, and therefor reduce my CPU load tremendously.

Conclusion

Most of the top home recording programs with the most intense features typically use the most CPU power and RAM. If you recording methods require less features than a program such as Sony Vegas will perform extremely well with a moderate amount of CPU power.