8/19/11

Tech #12: Jurassic Office: The Age of Giant Computers


They say the technology that sent a man to the moon could now fit inside your cell phone. It really is quite amazing when you stop and think about it: that behemoth in the image above couldn't do what your iPod can do.... not even come close.  They were massive, often taking up entire rooms, loud, and incredibly expensive.  You could buy a truckload of smartphones for the price of even one of these prehistoric leviathans that, by today's standards, could do very little. But before you get all cocky about it, just remember that people will be mocking your iPads and X Boxes thirty years from now as well.

It's also interesting to note that science fiction missed the mark in predicting this would happen. They certainly put a lot of stock in what computers could do (prepare your lunch, predict the future, take over the world, etc.), but never predicted that they would get really, really, really, tiny.

So, I hope you'll enjoy this gallery of colossal computers and massive mainframes. Click images to enlarge.

































18 comments:

  1. Looking at all these huge units reminds me of a riff from Mystery Science Theater 3000. When a short subject shows footage of a large computer, one of the guys remarks, "Yes! One of these in every home!"

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  2. I'm old enough to remember being in 8th grade when our high school got fitted with one of these monsters--but "Data Processing" was listed under the "Womens Courses" along with Home Economics & Stenography, guess they figured it wasn't man's work.

    You'd look in there and see girls pushing metal carts around with long cardboard boxes of punched cards...

    And here we are 35 years later, and I am developing healthcare software from my laptop on my livingroom couch for my company downtown... well, we're still using keyboards at least!

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  3. It is amazing how we have come from computers taking up an entire room to being able to hold it in your hand.

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  4. These pictures are awesome! It always seems that in the 60s and 70s, everyone's desk was clean. I can recall doing on-site installations of refrigerator sized servers. Now, those same servers could fit in pizza box sized racks and I can login to them via my phone.

    I'm fortunate today to be posting this message with a computer that has a 2TB drive and 16GB RAM... SPOILED! :)

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  5. It's interesting that you could get these big machines with either the pretty girl option or the nerdy guy option. I guess it cost extra to get both. Given a choice, I'd go with the girl-in-the mini-skirt option (even if it cost more than the girl-in-the-slacks option.

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  6. I was bummed when I finally got to visit the "computer" hall when my Dad was working on his Ph.D. He had two boxes of punch cards that ran a Chi-Square program--a big deal in those days (late 60s) and part of the Ph.D. Stats course.

    But the big computer was in a glassed in room and you couldn't even go in there! You had to hand off the cards to a couple of nerdy guys who carefully placed them in a stack thing and then the computer slowly "ate" them one-by-one. About 30 minutes later, he got a big printout from a gigantic dot-matrix printer.

    When I went to school, my H-P calculator did Chi-Square in a millisecond....

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  7. Back then, nothing said "High Tech" like reel to reel computers. Great pics!

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  8. You young'uns today...back when *I* was a kid, them thar computer things were gas-powered!!

    Dag-nabbit!!

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  9. Some of the computer operators in the pics above have nice minis on...perhaps a theme for a future "Mini Skirt Monday"?

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  10. Brings back horrific memories of having to take Computer in High School which was nothing more than typing out nonsensical gibberish. Maybe I should have paid attention more.

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  11. I like how hard drives of the day were removable storage.

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  12. This looks like something out of a bad 50s sci-fi film.

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  13. mandy_ReevesAugust 20, 2011

    My dad learned how to be a key punch operator in the Navy in the early-mid 70's. Keypunch was also his CB handle!!! Being born in 78...I don't remember these computers...but I do remember dot matrix printers and floppy disks. Also, instead of black lines when something printed out...it was letters and numbers as an outline.

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  14. I learned to use a "SLIDE-RULE" in math in 1978!

    I read somewhere that a singing greeting card has more computing power than all the computers in th world in 1950!

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  15. Some time it might be interesting to actually post the stats on these behemoths. We always hear how "obsolete" these are, but it would be interesting to know HOW obsolete.

    My original "Lap top," for example, weighed 14 pounds was an 8088 processor, and had a cpu speed of 7 MgHtz. When I tell my nephews that they look at me in slack jawed amazement. (They then comment on how old I must be and nobody gets ice cream THAT day.)

    What exactly were the speed and processing power of these monsters?

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  16. A room-sized Burroughs B5500 circa 1964 ran about 1MHZ (not GHZ!); the desk-sized size disk systems roughly 10MB/disk unit. They sometimes had hundreds of these disks. While these machines were incredibly slow by today's standard, they had large data width of about 48 bits and could add two words (numbers) in 3us, or multiply in about 30us. It was the advances in operating software that was incredible; much of it made its way into desktop OSs, like virtual memory, branch prediction, multiple memory channels, distributed and coprocessing, and even multiple "cores". Look up the Burroughs B5000 architecture for more.

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  17. In 1982 a 30 megabyte disk drive was the size of a washing machine and cost a half a million dollars (disk controller was extra). A kilobyte of memory wholesaled for over ten thousand dollars.

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  18. I know someone who used to do this promotional photography for one of the major computer manufacturers. Most of the cabinets you see in those pictures are just empty metal boxes--there is no actual computer in them. They'd get the assignment for the photo shot before the engineers were even finished designing the thing.

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