31 October 2011

When Fast Was Turbo

By dumb-luck and fortunate timing in the mid-80s, I scored an undergraduate fellowship from the University of Minnesota Civil & Mineral Engineering department to develop engineering applications for two-floppy drive IBM Personal Computers.

With mentoring from three engineering profs and one post-doc, our team of a handful of CE undergraduates benefited from a 2-year grant from IBM to learn and build educational software for engineers. We started our first applications using IBM Pascal (UCSD Pascal) in deference to our benefactor.

At the time one had to boot the IBM PC from a left-hand floppy disk that had MS-DOS and IBM Pascal  on it. 5 MB hard-drives weren't readily available until a year or two later. We used the right-hand floppy disk for source code and data files.

Around 1984-85, we switched Pascal compilers to Borland's Turbo Pascal. Turbo Pascal was shockingly fast and lightweight - even by today's standards. Turbo Pascal represented a quantum leap in our app development.

The Turbo Pascal 3.02 compiler and IDE was only 39,731 bytes. A size-wise comparison to a few contemporary benchmarks:
Reference: Things Turbo Pascal is Smaller Than

By fast I mean builds of 1-2 seconds.
Full rebuilds were about as fast as saying the name of each file in the project aloud. And zero link time. ~ James Hague
That all this was running on an 8MHz Intel 8088 makes it all the more remarkable.