Nepal – the country of the Buddha and the Mt. Everest

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without – Buddha

World’s Oldest Digital Computer Still Works

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on December 14, 2012


OCThe Harwell Dekatron computer is as big as a SUV and has the computational power of a drugstore pocket calculator. However, it’s also 60 years old. And, unlike my laptop from 2006, this relic from the 1950s is still working.

OC3The National Museum of Computing recently restored the Harwell Dekatron to original operating condition with 95% original parts (parts that include valves, tubes and rolls of paper tape).

Old ComputerThe Dekatron digital computer was named the Most Durable Computer in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1973. The most recent restoration means it’ll be still doing basic math for years to come.

The 2.5 ton Dekatron was built in 1951 by the UK Atomic Energy Research Establishment to perform basic calculations accurately and repeatedly, computing at a rate of 0.1 flops, a snail’s pace by today’s standards.

Technological advances quickly made the Dekatron obsolete, but no one told the computer. Instead, it made its rounds as a teaching tool.

The project to restore the computer was initiated by Kevin Murrell, a trustee of the National Museum of Computing. He says, “In 1951 the Harwell Dekatron was one of perhaps a dozen computers in the world, and since then it has led a charmed life surviving intact while its contemporaries were recycled or destroyed.”

The Harwell Dekatron is a computer dear to Murrell’s heart:

“I first encountered the Harwell Dekatron as a teenager in the 1970s when it was on display in the Birmingham Museum of Science and Industry – and I was captivated by it. When that Museum closed, it disappeared from public view, but four years ago quite by chance I caught a glimpse of its control panel in a photograph of stored equipment. That sparked our ideas to rescue it and we hunted it down.”

“The TNMOC restoration team has done a superb job to get it working again and it is already proving to be a fascination to young and old alike,” Murrell continues, “To see it in action is to watch the inner workings of a computer – something that is impossible on the machines of today.”

The restoration project of the ancient machine proved to be difficult for contemporary computing engineers and designers used to newer, and much smaller, technologies like microchips.

“The restoration was quite a challenge requiring work with components like valves, relays and paper tape readers that are rarely seen these days and are certainly not found in modern computers,” claims Delwyn Holroyd, leader of the restoration team, “Older members of the team had to brush up on old skills while younger members had to learn from scratch!”

@All Voices

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: