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Computer History

Timelines of Computing

Famous Machines and other Milestones

In the Beginning

1937-1942: Atanasoff-Berry

Iowa State University was the home of the first electronic digital computer. Main storage was a rotating drum with each bit stored in a capacitor with dynamic refresh, backing storage was cards, into which holes were burned by a spark gap!

1944-1946: ENIAC

The Ballistic Research Lab of the US Army sponsored the construction of the first American vacuum-tube computer. Mike Muus's History of Computing Information has lots of wonderful material.

1959-1961: Rice Computer

  • Rice Institute Computer (R1) was the first machine with a segmented memory architecture. It was a one-off design; 54 bits x 8K words of electrostatic memory, later replaced with 32 KW of magnetic core memory.

    The article has impressive pictures of a CPU large enough for a technician to walk around inside it (with a scope cart).

Early 1960's: IBM 1401 Data Processing System

1961: IBM 7030 Stretch

Project Stretch created the second-generation mainframe computer.


1963: IBM 7094 and CTSS

MIT's Compatible Time-Sharing System was written to run on a (somewhat modified) IBM 7094.


1964: IBM System/360

IBM's grand leap from 36 bits to 32 bits.

This website's comprehensive article about S/360.

1965: Multics

1966: PDP-8

While the large systems became multi-user, Digital Equipment Corp. was trying to build a computer so inexpensive that it did not have to be shared.
  • Doug Jones' PDP-8 FAQ is a great overview of the accomplishments of the PDP-8 family.
  • pdp8.net is a live PDP-8/E connected to the Internet.
  • PDP8.COM is a private fan site. (Last I checked, the content was gone, however).

Late 1960's: PDP-10 Family

Digital Equipment did their own successor to the IBM-709 series: The PDP-10 was a full-blown 36-bit mainframe with a time-sharing operating system called TOPS-10. Along the way, Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN - the ARPAnet people) designed a virtual memory extension and an operating system called TENEX. Eventually, Digital bought it and integrated it with their own system, producing TOPS-20.

1970: PDP-11

Digital followed the success of the PDP-8 family up with the 16-bit PDP-11 family. The first PDP-11/20 was shipped in 1970, and 30 years later, new PDP-11s are still being built and sold.

1978: VAX

The VAX filled the gap in Digital's product line between the PDP-11 and the PDP-10 families. Eventually, it was replaced by the Alpha series of servers and workstations.

The major survivors

Museums and Collections of Old Computers

Virtual Collections

Keeping Dinosaurs Alive by Simulation

  • Forest Edge Software and eVAX
  • emulation.net: Emulators for the Mac OS
  • D Bit: the Ersatz-11
    Emulate any PDP-11 model on your Pentium, and attach Qbus or Unibus peripherals via bus adapter that plugs into PCI. An emulated PDP-11/93 makes a very nice home for RSX-11M-PLUS.
  • PDP-11 Freeware CD's
  • Fundamental Software, Inc.
    IBM has the P/390: An S/390 CPU chipset on a PCIbus card that lets software developers run a fairly slow VM/390 on an OS/2 based server. Fundamental Software has FLEX-ES, a production load capable plug-compatible mainframe running on a Unix-based Pentium-class machine. Recognized by IBM's software licensing administration as a plug-compatible mainframe. A 400MHz Pentium-II could be an 8-MIPS 3080. Fundamental Software will configure the system to run at the speed of your old mainframe, so you don't have to upgrade your software license when you downsize the CPU box!
  • Hercules-390 is a freeware emulator that runs on a Linux Pentium.

Important People in Computer History

Famous Programs

Unsorted Links

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