Minimalist Photos of Retro computers which you never seen before

When you see photos of classic cars from past decade, they’re often beautifully restored, looking better than they did when they left the factory. No such love is given to old computers, as no experts in detailing a 1975 East German HDR 75 (left) exist.

London-based photographer James Ball (aka Docu byte), who we first learned about on Core77, has a thing for vintage computers. Ball went behind the scenes at the UK’s National Museum of Computing, the Science Museum in the UK, Germany’s Technical Collections of Dresden, and California’s Computer History Museum to capture the collections in all their knobby and bleep-bloop glory. Production studio INK digitally retouched the images to return them to their original form with minimalist flair and a pop of color.

See the IBM 1401, Alan Turing’s Pilot ACE, and other vintage lovelies in Ball’s Guide to Computing series in our gallery.


HDR 75 (1975)

The HDR 75 is a small analog hybrid computer that was developed in the former DDR at the Technical University of Dresden (now known as The Center for Information Services and High Performance Computing).

pic3ENDIM 2000 (year unknown)

The ENDIM 2000 analog computer, a tube-based design developed and manufactured in the former German Democratic Republic.

pic4PACE TR-48 (early 1960s)

This analog computer gives new meaning to the term “desktop”. At four feet wide, almost two feet deep and just over two feet high, this computer just barely fits on a desk (and there’s no room left over for your notepad and pencil — see the link to Documents). Weighing in at between 320 and 425 pounds (depending upon the configuration), this particular computer sits on a custom made desk which holds up to six patch boards.

The TR-48 was the most complete desktop analog computer available of its time. It solved sophisticated problems that required high-speed repetitive operation and iterative techniques with a capability equal to many console computing systems. Characteristics include a 48 amplifier capacity, the widest bandwidth of any desktop computer of its time, iterative solution and multi-scale capacity, high-speed repetitive capability, 4 independent time scale changes, solid state readout, removable patch panels for flexibility, and a compact and mobile low power drain. It was used for aero-space, biomedical, chemical engineering, and food technology.


ICL 7500 (1970s)

The ICL 7500 series are a range of terminals and workstations that were developed by the now-defunct UK computing company ICL during the 1970s.

Similar in size to a desk side or tower PC, but mounted horizontally, the ICL 7500 machines were intended to function in an office environment, with steel­-framed and wood­-veneered cabinets available for the processor and peripheral units.

By the 1980s, highly specialized versions of these machines had the ability to run the latest available games of the time, such as Pac ­Man and Space Invaders.


Control Data 6600 (1964)

The CDC 6600 was the flagship mainframe supercomputer of the 6000 series of computer systems manufactured by Control Data Corporation. The first CDC 6600 was delivered in 1965 to the CERN laboratory near GenevaSwitzerland,[1] where it was used to analyze the two to three million photographs of bubble-chamber tracks that CERN experiments were producing every year. In 1966 another CDC 6600 was delivered to the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, part of the University of California at Berkeley, where it was used for the analysis of nuclear events photographed inside the Alvarez bubble chamber; for cooling efficiency.pic8

Meda 42TA (early 1970s)

The Meda 42TA was one of the last analog hybrid computers to be built in former Czechoslovakia. It dates from the early 1970s, and was in widespread use in many countries behind the Iron Curtain.


IBM 729 (late 1950s)

The IBM 729 Magnetic Tape Unit was IBM’s iconic tape mass storage system from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s. Part of the IBM 7 track family of tape units, it was used on late 700, most 7000 and many 1400 series computers. Like its predecessor, the IBM 727 and many successors, the 729 used 1/2 inch (12.7 mm) magnetic tape up to 2400 feet (730 m) long wound on reels up to 10½ inch (267 mm) diameter. To allow rapid tape acceleration (and thus reduced seek/access times), long vacuum columns were placed between the tape reels and the read/write heads to absorb sudden increases in tape tension which would otherwise break the tape. Write protection was provided by a removable plastic ring in the back of the tape reel.


Pilot ACE (1950)

The Pilot ACE was one of the first computers built in the United Kingdom at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in the early 1950s. It was also one of the earliest stored-program computers, joining other UK designs like the Manchester Mark 1 and EDSAC of the same era. The design is one of the earliest general computers designed by Alan Turing, although he left NPL before it was completed.


The pilot ACE was built without hardware for multiplication or long division, in contrast to other computers at that time. The ACE started out using fixed-point multiplication and division implemented as software. It soon became apparent that fixed point arithmetic was a bad idea because the numbers quickly went out of range. It only took a short time to write new software so that the ACE could do floating-point arithmetic. After that, James H. Wilkinson became an expert and wrote a book on rounding errors in floating-point calculations, which eventually became a big seller.

Pilot ACE used approximately 800 vacuum tubes. Its main memory consisted of mercury delay lines with an original capacity of 128 32-bit words, which was later expanded to 352 words. A 4096-word drum memory was added in 1954. Its basic clock rate, 1 megahertz, was the fastest of the early British computers. The time to execute instructions was highly dependent of where they were in memory (due to the use of delay line memory). An addition could take anywhere from 64 microseconds to 1024 microseconds.

The machine was so successful that a commercial version of it, named the DEUCE, was constructed and sold by the English Electric Company.

Pilot ACE was shut down in May 1955, and was given to the Science Museum, where it remains today.


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