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The First Generation Computers

Do you remember this computer?

It is the Bendix G-15 General Purpose Di ital Computer! a First Generation computer introduced in 1"5#$

Another picture (66k). And another (105k). And you can download larger versions of the following pictures on this page by clicking on them. ( ut be aware! they vary in si"e between 0.5# and 1.5# and downloading will be slow).

%hy this interest in the Bendix G-15? Against the odds! the $estern Australian branch of %he Australian &omputer #useum 'nc has rescued one from the scrap heap. %hat(s it! over on the right. 't is in pretty good condition! considering its age! and we hope one day we can get it working again. $e also have various programming! operating and technical manuals! and schematics. %hey have been scanned and you can download them here. %his web site started life in 1))* as a sort of begging letter! seeking more information about the maintenance procedures. $e have since been told that there was no formal maintenance manual and that our documentation is complete so far as maintaining the machine is concerned. +till! if you can help with some of the other items we are missing or add anything at all to our store of knowledge about the endi, -.15! please get in touch with me! /avid -reen at .

First Generation Computers$ %he first generation of computers is said by some to have started in 1)06 with 12'A&! the first (computer( to use electronic valves (ie. vacuum tubes). 3thers would say it started in #ay 1)0) with the introduction of 1/+A&! the

first stored program computer. $hichever! the distinguishing feature of the first generation computers was the use of electronic valves. #y personal take on this is that 12'A& was the $orld(s first electronic calculator and that the era of the first generation computers began in 1)06 because that was the year when people consciously set out to build stored program computers (many won(t agree! and ' don(t intend to debate it). %he first past the post! as it were! was the 1/+A& in 1)0). %he period closed about 1)5* with the introduction of transistors and the general adoption of ferrite core memories. 31&/ figures indicate that by the end of 1)5* about 4!500 first generation computers were installed world.wide. (&ompare this with the number of 5&sshipped world.wide in 1))6! 7uoted as *4 million by /ata7uest). %wo key events took place in the summer of 1)06 at the #oore +chool of 1lectrical 1ngineering at the 8niversity of 5ennsylvania. 3ne was the completion of the 12'A&. %he other was the delivery of a course of lectures on 9%he %heory and %echni7ues of 1lectronic /igital &omputers9. 'n particular! they described the need to store the instructions to manipulate data in the computer along with the data. %he design features worked out by :ohn von 2eumann and his colleagues and described in these lectures laid the foundation for the development of the first generation of computers. %hat ;ust left the technical problems< 3ne of the pro;ects to commence in 1)06 was the construction of the 'A+ computer at the 'nstitute of Advanced +tudy at 5rinceton. %he 'A+ computer used a random access electrostatic storage system and parallel binary arithmetic. 't was very fast when compared with the delay line computers! with their se7uential memories and serial arithmetic.

%he 5rinceton group was liberal with information about their computer and before long many universities around the world were building their own! close copies. 3ne of these was the +'=='A& at +ydney 8niversity in Australia. ' have written an emulator for +'=='A&. >ou can find it here! along with a link to a copy of the +'=='A& 5rogramming #anual.

First Generation Technolo ies 'n 1)06 there was no (best( way of storing instructions and data in a computer memory. %here were four competing technologies for providing computer memory? electrostatic storage tubes! acoustic delay lines (mercury or nickel)! magnetic drums (and disks@)! and magnetic core storage. A high.speed electrostatic store was the heart of several early computers! including the computer at the 'nstitute for Advanced +tudies in 5rinceton. 5rofessor A. &. $illiams and /r. %. Bilburn! who invented this type of store! described it in 5roc.'.1.1. )6! 5t.'''! 00 (#arch! 1)0)). A simple account of the $illiams tube is given here. %he great advantage of this type of 9memory9 is that! by suitably controlling the deflector plates of the cathode ray tube! it is possible to redirect the beam almost instantaneously to any part of the screen? random access memory.

&coustic delay lines are based on the principle that electricity travels at the speed of light while mechanical vibrations travel at about the speed of sound. +o data can be stored as a string of mechanical pulses circulating in a loop! through a delay line with its output connected electrically back to its input. 3f course! converting electric pulses to mechanical pulses and back again uses up energy! and travel through the delay line distorts the pulses! so the output has to be amplified and reshaped before it is fed back to the start of the tube. %he se7uence of bits flowing through the delay line is ;ust a continuously repeating stream of pulses and spaces! so a separate source of regular clock pulses is needed to determine the boundaries between words in the stream and to regulate the use of the stream. /elay lines have some obvious drawbacks. 3ne is that the match between their length and the speed of the pulses is critical! yet both are dependent on temperature. %his re7uired precision engineering on the one hand and careful temperature control on the other. Another is a programming consideration. %he data is available only at the instant it leaves the delay line. 'f it is not used then! it is not available again until all the other pulses have made their way through the line. %his made for very entertaining programming< A mercury delay line is a tube filled with mercury! with a pie"o.electric crystal at each end. 5ie"o.electric crystals! such as 7uart"! have the special property that they e,pand or contract when the electrical voltage across the crystal faces is changed. &onversley! they generate a change in electrical voltage when they are deformed. +o when a series of electrical pulses

representing binary data is applied to the transmitting crystal at one end of the mercury tube! it is transformed into corresponding mechanical pressure waves. %he waves travel through the mercury until they hit the receiving crystal at the far end of the tube! where the crystal transforms the mechanical vibrations back into the original electrical pulses. #ercury delay lines had been developed for data storage in radar applications. Although far from ideal! they were an available form of computer memory around which a computer could be designed. &omputers using mercury delay lines included the A&1 computer developed at the 2ational 5hysical =aboratory! %eddington! and its successor! the 1nglish 1lectric /18&1. A good deal of information about /18&1 (manuals! operating instructions! program and subroutine codes and so on) is available on the $eb and you can find links to it here. 'ic(el delay lines take the form of a nickel wire. 5ulses of current representing bits of data are passed through a coil surrounding one end of the wire. %hey set up pulses of mechanical stress due to the (magnetostrictive( effect. A receiving coil at the other end of the wire is used to convert these pressure waves back into electrical pulses. %he 1lliott 000 series! including the 001! 004! 00C used nickel delay lines. #uch later! in 1)66! the 3livetti 5rogramma 101 desk top calculator also used nickel delay lines. %he ma netic drum is a more familiar technology! comparable with modern magnetic discs. 't consisted of a non.magnetic cylinder coated with a magnetic material! and an array of readDwrite heads to provide a set of parallel tracks of data round the circumference of the cylinder as it rotated. /rums had the same program optimisation problem as delay lines.

%wo of the most (commercially) successful computers of the time! the ' # 650 and the endi, -.15! used magnetic drums as their main memory. %he #assachusetts 'nstitute of %echnology $hirlwind 1 was another early computer and building started in 1)06. Eowever! the most important contribution made by the #'% group was the development of the ma netic core memory! which they later installed in $hirlwind. %he #'% group made their core memory designs available to the computer industry and core memories rapidly superceded the other three memory technologies.

%here Does the Bendix G-15 Fit In? %able 1 shows! in chronological order between 1)50 and 1)5*! the initial operating date of computing systems in the 8+A. %his is not to suggest that all of these computers were first generation computers! or that no first generation computers were made after 1)5*. 't does give a rough guide to the number of first generation computers made. endi, introduced their -.15 in 1)56. 't was not the first endi, computing machine. %hey introduced a model named the /.14! in 1)50. Eowever! the /. 14 was a digital differential analyser and not a general purpose computer. $e don(t know when the last endi, -.15 was built! but about three hundred of the computers were ultimately installed in the 8+A. %hree found their way to Australia. %he one we have was purchased by the /epartment of #ain Foads in 5erth in 1)64. 't was used in the design of the #itchell Areeway! the main road connecting the 2orthern suburbs to the city. %he -.15 was superceded by the second generation (transistorised) endi, -. 40. %able 4 shows the computers installed or on order! in Australia! about /ecember 1)64. %he three endi, -.15s were in 5erth (/epartment of #ain Foads)! +ydney (A.$.A. +ervice ureau) and #elbourne (1./.5 5ty =td).

)*er*ie+ o, the G-15 %he endi, -.15 was a fairly sophisticated! medium si"e computer for its day. 't used a magnetic drum for internal memory storage and had 1*0 tube packages and C00 germanium diode packages for logical circuitry. &ooling was by internal forced air. +torage on the #agnetic /rum comprised 4160 words in twenty channels of 10* words each. Average access time was 0.5 milliseconds. 'n addition! there were 16 words of fast.access storage in four channels of 0 words each! with average access time of 0.50 millisecondsG and eight words in registers consisting of 1 one.word command register! 1 one.word arithmetic register! and C two.word arithmetic registers for double.precision operations. A 10*.word buffer channel on the magnetic drum allowed input.output to proceed simultaneously with computation. $ord si"e was 4) bits! allowing single.precision numbers of seven decimal digits plus sign during input.output and twenty nine binary digits internally! and double.precision numbers of fourteen decimal digits plus sign during input. output! fifty eight binary digits internally.

1ach machine language instruction specified the address of the operand and the address of the ne,t instruction. /ouble.length arithmetic registers permitted the programming of double.precision operations with the same ease as single. precision ones. An interpreter called 'ntercom 1000 and a compiler called Algo provided simpler alternatives to machine language programming. Algo followed the principles set forth in the international algorithmic language! Algol! and permitted the programmer to state a problem in algebraic form. %he endi, &orporation claimed to be the first manufacturer to introduce a programming system patterned on Algol. %he basic computation times! in milliseconds! were as follows (including the time re7uired for the computer to read the command prior to its e,ecution). %he time range for multiplication and division represents the range between single decimal digit precision and ma,imum precision.
Single-Precision Addition or Subtraction Multiplication or Division 0.54 2.43 to 1 .! Double-Precision 0.81 2.43 to 33.1

1,ternal +torage was provided on searchable paper tape (4!500 words per maga"ine) and! optionally! on one to four! magnetic tape units with C00!000 words per tape unit reel. #ore detail about the endi, -.15 -eneral 5urpose /igital &omputer. =inks

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'f you know anything at all about the endi, -.15 we would like to hear from you. 5lease get in touch at =ast update +aturday! 41 #ay 4006.