IAS Computer

Development of the IAS Computer at the Institute for Advanced Study began in 1945. Designed and built by Alfred von Nuemann based on some earlier concepts, it is also known as the von Nuemann machine. This also spawned the von Neumann architecture, in influential stored-program computing design that is still in use today. It’s plans were distributed widely, and it spawned a whole class of derivative computers that were called “IAS machines”.

Torpedo Data Computer

tdcThe evolution of modern torpedoes goes back to just before the Civil War, when they could only maintain a straight course and preset depth. By the time World War I rolled around, navies around the world had developed a complicated manual procedure using slide rules. During World War II, almost all of the countries involved simultaneously developed analog guidance systems for their torpedoes.

The Torpedo Data Computer was developed by the U.S. Navy, which was way ahead of other guidance systems at the time due to it’s ability to automatically track a target. This distinct advantage not only helped American subs attack more accurately, it also became the standard for torpedo fire control. Dials and switches were used to perform trigonometric calculations for the torpedo to intercept it’s target. Although it was a large addition to a sub, it’s target tracking functions allowed crews to update the direction and other data as the ship was moving.

The original Mark I was completed in 1938, but was too complicated. Despite this, it was fitted to many of the existing submarines in service. In 1940, the first sub designed to use the TDC launched with the Mark III version on board. It was this version that became what is considered the best torpedo control system of the war.

The Star7

star7Developed by Sun Microsystems in the early 1990s, the Star7 was one of the earliest known handheld touchscreen devices. Although it never really made it past the prototype phase , it was innovative for it’s time and is widely considered one of the first PDAs.

It sported gesture based interaction, and even wireless connectivity. Introduced a year before the Apple Newton, it was specifically designed to interact with televisions and provided a variety of functions to work with programming guides and other devices like VCRs. It was even capable of sharing content with other Star7 devices. Although Sun pitched it to various cable companies, it didn’t generate a lot of interest and was abandoned. Sun moved on to developing Java and the Star7 faded into history.

Video Toaster

videotoaster4kCreated by NewTek, the Video Toaster was a software and hardware based tool used for video editing and debuted on the Commodore Amiga 2000 PC in 1990 as an add-on card. It’s ability to work with standard definition video made it a revolutionary hit in television and film production, earning a Technical Achievement Emmy in 1993.

The component utilized an expansion slot on the Amiga, providing BNC connectors for input and output, and was also notable for including the editing software LightWave 3D, which became so popular it was spun off as a separate product.

The Toaster would eventually be marketed as a complete editing system, including the Amiga PC, the add on card, and peripheral hardware. The substantial difference in cost set it apart from competing products, and it became widely used within the industry by the mid 1990s.

In 1993, NewTek delved into high performance with the Video Toaster Screamer, an extension by Deskstation Technology featuring four motherboards. Intended to increase the rendering speed of LightWave animation, it was by all accounts forty times faster than the Amiga 4000. Only a handful of test units were built before NewTek shifted back to the Flyer design and Deskstation built a smaller model called the Raptor.

Later incarnations would bring the Toaster Flyer, a new breed that brought more advanced features and hard drive storage. NewTek then spun off another product from the technology called TriCaster. In 2004, the original Amiga Toaster source code was made public as development continued on the Windows platform. NewTek announced Video Toaster’s discontinuation in 2010, and the last version of TriCaster released in 2012 signaled the end of it’s source code.

ERA 1101

ERA 1101A U.S. Navy team had built some early code-breaking computers during World War II similar to the Colossus machine in Britain. After the war, the group formed Engineering Research Associates (ERA) to continue building computers for the military and commercial sectors.

The first “Alpha” models initially funded by the U.S. Navy were delivered to the Army and the NSA. It is notably one of the first stored program computers that was ever built and then installed at a remote site.

The commercial version of the 1101 was revealed to the public in 1951, but by 1952  ERA was drained after a lengthy legal battle over conflict of interest claims due to the company’s military roots. The company was purchsed by Remington Rand around the same time as their acquisition of the Eckert-Mauchly Corporation, and was renamed the UNIVAC 1101 to capitalize on the name. Remington based a series of computers on the 1101 architecture well into the 1960s until it was finally phased out by newer technology. It continued to live on in name only in later Remington models.

NEAC 1101

neac1101Built by NEC in 1958, this was one of Japan’s first digital computers. It used so called parametron devices invented by Goto Eiichi and was the first Japanese computer to do floating point arithmetic. The devices utilized a switching technology similar to magnetic core that was more stable than vacuum tubes.


800px-EdvacThe EDVAC  (Electronic Discreete Variable Automatic Computer) was one of the earliest electronic computers and is most noted for using binary and stored programs, radical differences to the previous ENIAC system. Designed by Eckert & Mauchly while at the University of Pennsylvania for the U.S. Army’s Ballistics Research Lab on a $100,000 contract in 1946, it was delivered after some setbacks in 1948 to the cost of $500,000.

Like most computers of this era, it was ridiculously large. The EDVAC used 6,000 vacuum tubes and took up 490 ft of floor space. It took a complement of 30 people to run, consumed 56kw of power, and weighed a staggering 17,300 lbs.

The project ultimately wound up causing a rift between Eckert & Mauchly and the University of Pennsylvania over patents. When both men quit, most of the senior engineers went with them to form the legendary Eckert-Mauchly Corporation.

EDVAC was running over 20 hours a day by 1960 and received a lot of upgrades over the years, including floating point arithmetic and magnetic drum memory. It was shut down in 1961 when it was replaced by the BRLESC.

Pilot ACE

Pilot_ACEBased on the full ACE design by Alan Turing, the Pilot ACE was one of Britain’s first computers. Designed at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), it ran it’s first program in May of 1950. Running at a blistering 1 megahertz, it was one of the fastest early computers and despite being a prototype it was extremely useful because of it’s ability to do floating point arithmetic.

With 800 vacuum tubes and mercury delay line memory, instruction time was anywhere between 64 ms to 1024 ms. It was successful enough that a commercial version, the DEUCE, was produced by the English Electric Company. Shut down in 1955, it was donated to the London Science Museum, where it has remained.


ssec2The Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator was first introduced to the public on January 27th, 1948. It was a hybrid, made up of a mix of electromechanical relays and vacuum tubes. It was put on display behind a large window in the ground floor of IBM’s New York headquarters, and was nicknamed “Poppa” by the public for it’s noisy operation.

Although not completely electronic, it was the first to treat programmed instructions as data and had many features of stored program machines that would come about later. Like most computers of the day it was a large machine that took up a lot of space, occupying a 60 by 30 foot room.

The all electronic ENIAC had already been introduced prior to completion of the SSEC, and it was quickly outdated. It was used mainly as a public relations prop and served that role well until it ceased operation in 1952 and the new IBM 701 was placed on display instead.

IBM System/38

system38The IBM System/38 was part of the Future Systems Project at IBM,  and was developed by Dr.Frank Soltis under the codename “Pacific”.  It was released to the public in August, 1979 and featured one of the first relational database management systems using SQL, System R, also developed by the company.

Using a unique 48-bit addressing system,  it used the CPF (Control Program Facility) operating system. It was also one of the first mainframe systems to include user based security. It supported RPG II, COBOL,  BASIC,  and PL/I.  It was also capable of storing data anywhere on the disk.  It was later replaced by the AS/400.