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United Kingdom Hardware

The World's Oldest Original Digital Computer Springs Back Into Action At TNMOC 65

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the netbsd-accepts-challenge dept.
New submitter prpplague writes "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."
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The World's Oldest Original Digital Computer Springs Back Into Action At TNMOC

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @06:19AM (#42038503)

    I highly recommend visiting bletchley park. You won't be disappointed.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Around the time when dinosaurs ruled the planet !!

  • If this computer can decide to reboot itself, it must have now reached self-awareness!

    • So I guess the NT Kernel is self-aware. Same goes for Linux, I presume.
      Cue Apple marketing OS X crashes as it being self-aware and magically resetting itself to a safe state.

  • Restoring computing machinery for a show in a museum is one thing, making it working again is a real waste of resources!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      So Comrade, when did you become the chairman of the Computer Restoration Central Planing Bureau?
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by ciderbrew (1860166)
      Facebook is waste of resources. This shows people that take things granted the hard work people put in to allow Facebook to even work.
      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Slashdot, please stop giving mod points to non-nerds! Facebook is NOT a nerd site, and trashing it isn't trolling. The GP is the fucking troll and can't possibly be a nerd. "Restoring computing machinery for a show in a museum is one thing, making it working again is a real waste of resources!" should have been modded to oblivion. It's incredibly inflammatory to we nerds, unlike "facebook is a waste of resources." That's only inflammatory to teenagers and middle aged mothers. Sheesh...

        • Something can be interesting, but still not worth the resources. For example, it may be interesting to grind away all of the earth's crust and send it into the sun, but that doesn't mean it's worth it. Everything has tradeoffs and the smarter thing to do is to think for a bit about those tradeoffs rather than knee jerk responding that it's interesting therefore it must be done, damn the cost. Maybe the same resources could be put to a more valuable and interesting use while 95% of the learning and interest
    • by LoRdTAW (99712)

      "But Why?"

      Why not?

    • by crazyjj (2598719) *

      making it working again is a real waste of resources!

      Do you realize how many programmers spend every day designing games for Facebook, new fart apps for iOS, and expansions for WoW?

  • Nice... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @06:57AM (#42038675)

    ...But does it run Linux?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Imagine a Beowulf cluster of those!

  • by dtmos (447842) * on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @07:00AM (#42038699)

    Dekatron valves [wikipedia.org] are an example of a solution to the problem of making storage registers before integrated circuits made them essentially free. Making reliable working memory was one of the biggest problems faced by the early computer hardware designers, and Dekatron valves (tubes) were one of the more creative solutions. Of course, the reliability of solid-state electronics made them a technological backwater, but that makes them no less interesting -- it's fun to speculate on how things would have worked out if cold-cathode valves remained the dominant storage technology.

    • by cbhacking (979169)

      it's fun to speculate on how things would have worked out if cold-cathode valves remained the dominant storage technology

      Well, for one thing, you probably wouldn't be reading this site. Just downloading this webpage takes more resources than a lot of those early computers had, never mind rendering it. Valve-based systems don't scale it a way even remotely close to Moore's Law, and their lack of reliability meant that making the machine with too many of them just meant shorter mean time between failure and more time and expense spent on maintenance. The Internet as we think of it today would probably never have existed, much l

      • But it would look at steam punk and have a wonderful orange glow!
      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        Round about the time the WITCH was current, it looked like transistor-based systems wouldn't scale either. It's all down to which way you apply technology.

      • by Formalin (1945560)

        Tube logic was inefficient, and had reliability issues due to short life, but they were capable of high (MHz) switching speeds. Of course the size of things raises problems, and you have to run it a lot slower than any given gate could run, I suppose. Line driving issues, stray capacitance in the miles of wiring and whatnot, will kill your sharp edges and miss pulses.

        Cold cathode, however, was slow as fuck. A couple kHz, maybe, for neon; somewhat faster for argon. Hydrogen was the fastest IIRC ( the small s

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Well, for one thing, you probably wouldn't be reading this site

        You wouldn't be reading this site without integrated circuits. When I was in the USAF in 1972 I got to see the insides of a 1972 computer that ran a C-5A flight simulator. Rooms full of bookshelves, except instead of books the shelves held printed circuit boards. That was a computer in 1972, and it was probably far less powerful than an Apple IIe.

  • It's the oldest working digital computer.

    This is what you get when submitters copy-and-paste everything.

    New submitter prpplague writes

    Can we get rid of this standard introduction? It's almost never true.

  • With a name like that an announcement on Halloween would have been fun.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:09AM (#42039463) Journal
    Before this Dekatron came back to life, the title of being the oldest working digital computer was held by NS1978 [wikipedia.org]. On hearing that it lost that coveted title, it got despondent, got drunk and was seen [washingtonpost.com] stumbling through traffic on the Jersey Turnpike, screaming out what time each driver will get home.
  • It would be remiss to ignore the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (1942). It predated Harwell (and ENIAC). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atanasoff%E2%80%93Berry_Computer [wikipedia.org]
    • Completed in 1941.
      • ...which was destroyed in an Allied bomb raid in 1943. Yes, a duplicate was built in the 1960s which is still operational today, but it doesn't stop the WITCH from becoming the oldest *original* still-operating computer in existence.

    • by nozzo (851371)
      also the Z1 - the first programmable computer (albeit quite limited) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z1_(computer) [wikipedia.org]
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      It would be remiss to ignore the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (1942).

      I wouldn't call a calculating machine that couldn't be programmed a "computer." Yes, it was a forerunner to computers, and technical developments for it were used in computers, but I wouldn't call a non-programmable device a computer.

  • The WITCH going live right before the end of the world prediction... coincidence? I think not.
  • During a short spell volunteering for TNMOC I watched this being worked on. Truly a labour of love and a great achievement and some amazing talented people involved in the project. most definitely worth a visit.
  • I can only guess that the author of the article thinks that "rebooted" means "plugged in and turned on". When I first saw the title I thought it meant that it had been running for years and was to undergo a rare re-start.

  • You mean there is a newer original digital computer?

    • by prpplague (17497)

      there are replicas of older digital computers such as the Colossus(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colossus_computer), but they are not the original. The Harwell Computer is all of the original equipment....

  • ... a Beowulf cluster ...

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