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Hardware Technology

UK's Oldest Computer To Be "Rebooted" 153

Smivs writes with this interesting piece of computer history, excerpted from the BBC: "Britain's oldest original computer, the Harwell, is being sent to the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley where it is to be restored to working order. The computer, which was designed in 1949, was built and used by staff at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Harwell, Oxfordshire. It first ran in 1951 and was designed to perform mathematical calculations. It lasted until 1973. When first built the 2.4m x 5m computer was state-of-the-art, although it was superseded by transistor-based systems. The restoration project is expected to take a year. Although not the first computer built in the UK, the Harwell had one of the longest service lives. Built by a team of three people, the device was capable of doing the work of six to ten people and ran for seven years until the establishment obtained their first commercial computer. 'We didn't think we were doing anything pioneering at the time,' said Dick Barnes, who helped build the original Harwell computer."
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UK's Oldest Computer To Be "Rebooted"

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  • Re:Vaccum Tubes? (Score:5, Informative)

    by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:55AM (#29299009) Journal

    Where are they going to get vaccum tubes or other antiquated apparatuses from? How much will they cost?

    I think many vacuum tubes are being manufactured in Russia right now, I know this from buying guitar amplifier tubes so I suspect that is where they will be sourced.

  • by marciot ( 598356 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:57AM (#29299049)

    I've found that for older hardware that is running fine 24x7, the worst thing is to shut it down. It invariably fails to start up again.

  • by TobascoKid ( 82629 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:24AM (#29299411) Homepage

    The Harwell is still in one piece, the Colossus no longer exists (the Colossus at Bletchly is a replica). Also, the Harwell is a stored program computer (like all modern computers), Colossus isn't.

  • Re:What? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Spad ( 470073 ) <slashdot.spad@co@uk> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:24AM (#29299415) Homepage

    It seems to be predated in the UK by at least ENIAC, EDSAC and Baby, though not by a long time.

    I can't find anything written about it that implies anything particularly special about it that would allow it to be "first" in a given area.

  • Re:Vaccum Tubes? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:30AM (#29299479)

    There are still plently of places in the UK that make these, admittedly most of the ones i know are hand-made for guitar amplifiers but they most certainly are made in the UK.

  • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:50AM (#29299787)
    The original US tube-based computer (I forget the acronym) had about 5000 tubes, each of which had a MTTF of around 2-3000 hours. Many people thought that it would break down too often to be of any use. But the designers had realised that what kills tubes is turnon (when the filament carries more current because it is low resistance) causing filament damage and thermal shock damage to the envelope. If the tubes were warmed up slowly and then left on all the time, there would be an infant mortality phase but then the machine would get more reliable with time as the tubes got into the depths of the bathtub life curve.

    Pedant note: although "all the time" or "always on" have more letters than "24x7", they are quicker to say and more meaningful. Why do we have this horrible cypher?

  • Re:One word (Score:3, Informative)

    by pjt33 ( 739471 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @11:44AM (#29300521)

    Who modded this offtopic? Stonehenge is seriously claimed by some to be the UK's oldest computer.

  • by value_added ( 719364 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:06PM (#29300739)

    Pedant note: although "all the time" or "always on" have more letters than "24x7", they are quicker to say and more meaningful. Why do we have this horrible cypher?

    Pedant note: The term "cypher" is not a meaningful synonym for argot, cliche, neologism, colloquialism, expression, jargon, localism, newspeak, parlance, phrase, or vernacular (among others).

    That's not to say slipping in other people's mud isn't forgivable. ;-)

  • Re:What? (Score:4, Informative)

    by JasterBobaMereel ( 1102861 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:55PM (#29301309)

    It was built in 1951 and used for teaching until 1973, and then donated to a museum, it is the earliest surviving British computer

    All the earlier ones (Colossus, Manchester M1 etc.. ) were destroyed, dismantled, or lost, just like their American counterparts (ENIAC etc ..)

    The earlier ones you can see in museums are all only parts, or reconstructions, this is a complete and when restored potentially working computer

  • Re:hindsight (Score:2, Informative)

    by geezer nerd ( 1041858 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @05:59PM (#29305261)
    In my early days of computing, computers were very large machines which resided in purpose-built computer rooms with large glass walls allowing passersby to observe the whirling tapes and the blinking lights so as to properly "ooh" and "aah" over the marvels of cutting-edge technology. Thank goodness those days are long-gone.

    In the latter half of the '60s I had the good fortune to be able to use the most super-duper supercomputer of the time, the CDC 6600. For those who may not remember, the 6600 was one of the creations of the genius mind of Seymour Cray while he worked for Control Data Corp. I was going to write a tome about the machine, but I find the Wikipedia description ( is actually very good.

    Suffice it to say that with a max of 1.3million characters main memory, and a 10MHz clock frequency, it was the biggest, fastest computer on the block in its day. The computations I was doing for my thesis at the time went from 8 hours per point (CDC 1604) to 1 hour per point. That was a really significant boost.

    However, even back in the '90s, desktop PC hardware had improved (in capability and price) such that even a typical PC system would have a lot more power and capability than the 6600. Viva la difference!

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford