November 21, 2012

The oldest working digital computer

Major geekdom — the boffins at The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park found a computer that had been put into storage when another museum had closed. It has been restored and after 60 years is now fully operational.
From The National Museum of Computing:

The world's oldest original digital computer springs back into action at TNMOC
After a three-year restoration project at The National Museum of Computing, the Harwell Dekatron (aka WITCH) computer will rebooted on 20 November 2012 to become the world's oldest original working digital computer.

Now in its seventh decade and in its fifth home, the computer with its flashing lights and clattering printers and readers provides an awe-inspiring display for visiting school groups and the general public keen to learn about our rich computer heritage.

The 2.5 tonne, 1951 computer from Harwell with its 828 flashing Dekatron valves, 480 relays and a bank of paper tape readers will clatter back into action in the presence of two of the original designers, one of its first users and many others who have admired it at different times during its remarkable history.

Photos and a short video at the site. I remember Dekatron tubes — they used a neon gas discharge to count up to ten. You could reset the tube to zero through one line and then use another electrode to advance the discharge by one. You would read the number by looking where the glow was.

Posted by DaveH at November 21, 2012 01:18 PM
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