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Computer reborn

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The paper is all about the restoration of vintage IBM 1401 computer for the computer history museum, in Mountain View, Calif. The 1401 processed numbers in decimal rather than binary form and accepted numbers of varying digit spans. Companies leased it for US $6500 a month, equivalent to $45 000 today, a bargain for an all-transistor design with stored programs. Such features had been offered only in huge systems costing about six times as much. The museum got an even better bargain in 2003, when five enthusiasts gave it an old 1401 they'd bought on the German eBay site for a mere $18000, then about $21000. In part, the low price reflects the water damage that occurred during storage in Hamburg, damage the rehabbers took some 10000 man-hours to repair, typically with old parts. The selling price also reflects the old-tech fervor of the seller, a German engineer who'd bought the machine for his own use in 1972, when IBM stopped supporting the model, and couldn't bear to scrap it when its working life was done. And of course, there's the effect of Moore's Law: The 1401 system, all 4 tons of it, has about one-millionth the computing power of your $600 desktop PC.

Published in:

Spectrum, IEEE  (Volume:46 ,  Issue: 11 )