The Harwell Dekatron

For those of you complaining about the weight and size of your laptop, in the hope that Santa will bring you a new one, we thought we'd bring you a few words on the magnificently titled Harwell Dekatron.

Why our interest? Well, tenuous though it might appear, a lady who works for one of our clients has a cousin, Ted Cooke Yarborough was one of the Dekatron's original designers.

The Harwell Dekatron was built in 1951 at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, retired by 1957 to the Wolverhampton Institute of Technology, eventually placed in Birmingham's Museum of Science and Industry for a while and has now been resurrected by the National Museum of Computing.

The great thing weighs 2.5 tonnes and was designed to help mathematicians run calculations that would otherwise be done by hand.

Harwell Dekatron






























Input is by punched tape - the machine has six tape readers - and individual tapes are often used to describe specific subroutines. The tape is in a loop for some of these - the source of today's programming vernacular.

The machine isn't particularly fast, as you might guess; in fact, it's not much faster than a human in terms of computational speed. The point is, it can run 24/7 unattended, unlike mere humans who require fripperies such as sleep, food and breaks.

So the next time you deride the latest chunky number from Dell's laptop range, bear in mind the modern computer's roots.


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