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 Post subject: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Mon 09, 2014 11:16 pm 
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I see that in vacuum tube computers, they had all different kinds of tubes. What are the tubes and what are their functions? Why so many different kinds? If it were just logic gates, wouldn't it be logical to just stick to one kind? Any schematic for a small section like the one in the picture, and where can you get one piece of an antique computer?

Image

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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Tue 10, 2014 12:07 am 
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For one thing, is that part of a digital computer, or an analog computer ?

They made analog computers, were you wired up a circuit, to emulate a certain mathematical function, and the results were plotted on an x-y plotter.

You're thinking like someone who would design an IC. There replicating a few types of components in mass, makes more sense. In the old days, with discrete components, the idea was to use as few components as possible. With ICs you group your transistors to make gates, then group your gates to make flip-flops, and then group the flip-flops to make registers, and counters. With tubes, if you could make a short cut, you took it. They had individual tubes that did the whole counting function. Not even one type, but three, though two were used most often; the dekatron and the trochotron. The dekatron was a gas filled cold cathode tube, while the trochotron, was a vacuum tube inside a magnetic field. RCA also made a special memory tube called the Selectron (not to be confused with the selectron brand; both owned by RCA), that made its way into only one computer:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JOHNNIAC

There's also a working dekatron computer at Bletchley Park:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harwell_computer

It was made and used elsewhere, but is now restored and functional at that museum.

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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Tue 10, 2014 1:33 am 
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Looks just like the modules we kids "liberated" from a local scrap metal place in Waterbury CT in the 60s. Wish I had a time machine to go back and "liberate" some of the 5881s that were dumped into 55 gallon drums. Sigh...
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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Tue 10, 2014 1:51 am 
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The photo shown in the first post is one byte of digital memory,
8 tubes equal 8 bits equal one byte.
Just think about how much space it would take up using those
to make a modern terabyte...

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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Tue 10, 2014 1:54 am 
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davidl_i wrote:
I see that in vacuum tube computers, they had all different kinds of tubes. What are the tubes and what are their functions? Why so many different kinds? If it were just logic gates, wouldn't it be logical to just stick to one kind? Any schematic for a small section like the one in the picture, and where can you get one piece of an antique computer?...
Well, I've got one, but it's not for sale. :mrgreen:

First, you're presuming the one in the picture is properly populated (hard to tell but it looks right) but, setting that aside, as but one example one type might be used for 'flip flops', another for pulse detection, another for buffering/amplifying the output, and so on.

Here's a rack full looking a bit more like you expect.
Attachment:
tubecalc.jpg
tubecalc.jpg [ 85.54 KiB | Viewed 3507 times ]


Possibly the first IBM to use plug in modules was the 1948 604 http://www.computermuseum.li/Testpage/I ... t-1948.htm Whether it's that particular module I can't say but do know the ones in the 1953 701 look like it. http://www.computermuseum.li/Testpage/IBM-701.htm By 1958 IBM introduced the 'transistor' 709 (7090).


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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Tue 10, 2014 1:57 am 
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Ron in Radio Heaven wrote:
The photo sown in the first post is one byte of digital memory,
8 tubes equal 8 bits equal one byte.
Just think about how much space it would take up using those
to make a modern terabyte...
It's a lot worse than you think because that panel is no where near 'a byte' of anything, nor is it memory.


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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Tue 10, 2014 2:34 am 
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Even before tubes there was the Babbage Machine and I understand that our Navy used Mechanical Computers to calculate the Big Guns of Battleships, that took into consideration the running speed, roll and pitch, distance of trajectory etc. of the Behemoth's. They would take up several compartments of a ship. Can you imagine troubleshooting one of those while under enemy fire? Lets see now, where did I set My calipers and oil can? :mrgreen:

They started as Rangekeepers. Heres an interesting article on the development of Rangekeepers and transition from mechanical/electrical to electronics.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangekeeper

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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Tue 10, 2014 2:57 am 
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Radiosmoker wrote:
Even before tubes there was the Babbage Machine and I understand that our Navy used Mechanical Computers to calculate the Big Guns of Battleships, that took into consideration the running speed, roll and pitch, distance of trajectory etc. of the Behemoth's. They would take up several compartments of a ship. Can you imagine troubleshooting one of those while under enemy fire? Lets see now, where did I set My calipers and oil can? :mrgreen:
There were lots of mechanical 'calculator/computing' devices but looks to me like we're soon going to get into the definition of a "computer."


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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Tue 10, 2014 8:35 pm 
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Interesting question. I never thought about what type of tubes early computers used.

I just learned that the first electronic digital general purpose computer (ENIAC) was developed by the govt., under supervision and financed by the Dept. of the Army's Research and Development Command specifically for the need to better artillery performance. It had more than 17,000 vacuum tubes and had to be in a air conditioning cooled environment.... On any given day up several of those tubes might have burnt out, mostly during power-up and power down procedures. I snagged the following from Wikipedia on some of its tubes:

Quote:
ENIAC used common octal-base radio tubes of the day; the decimal accumulators were made of 6SN7 flip-flops, while 6L7's, 6SJ7's, 6SA7's and 6AC7's were used in logic functions.[citation needed] Numerous 6L6's and 6V6's served as line drivers to drive pulses through cables between rack assemblies.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ENIAC

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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Tue 10, 2014 9:41 pm 
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I took a trip through The Computer Museum, originally started by Digital Equipment Corp. when it was on the Wharf in Boston. I worked for DEC at the time and was out there for training. Excellent collection of almost everything from vacuum tube, supercomputer, NASA and military systems up through modern times. It is now in California. Probably quite a bit bigger and better now, I hope to see it someday...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Comput ... um,_Boston

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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Tue 10, 2014 10:04 pm 
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They mostly used a few types only. I think your picture is something like 6x 12AU7 or similar, and 2x 6FQ7 or so for more drive, presumably outputs or reset or something. (or maybe the tubes aren't right...)

IBM started using lots of 6J6s I think, but later went to 12AU7, 12AT7, (or the high reliability variants 59xx) in most of their "trigger" circuits (flip flops), buffers, gates. The some tube machines had these "modules" in a pluggable stack, so you could replace the whole.. "IC" as it were... each would be one flip flop, or inverter, or whatever.

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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Wed 11, 2014 4:00 am 
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marko wrote:
...some tube machines had these "modules" in a pluggable stack, so you could replace the whole.. "IC" as it were... each would be one flip flop, or inverter, or whatever....
The better analogy is "circuit board" which, today, use "printed" circuits. The tube variant isn't using a board, either, so it's a circuit "module" but the thing in common is a collection of individual component parts assembled into a functional unit, pluggable in this case (which is no trivial development either).

An "integrated circuit" is not made up of individual parts but, rather, the whole ball of wax is constructed in one process. The 'circuit' itself becomes a 'component'.


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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Wed 11, 2014 4:37 am 
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mugginsjr wrote:
....I just learned that the first electronic digital general purpose computer (ENIAC) ...
Just for some perspective on "programming," here's how you did it on an ENIAC.
Attachment:
Eniac.jpg
Eniac.jpg [ 143.5 KiB | Viewed 3290 times ]


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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Wed 11, 2014 4:42 am 
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Just like today's computers, computers made with tubes were digital machines. The first ones built were specificly built for a particular function. They would break codes or calculate complex trajectory tables for big guns. After programmable computers came along, they again were digital units. The memory units would all use the same tube type to store bits, but other tubes were used to connect the computer to the outside world (i.e. a printer). Today, that sort of thing is done by a couple of chips typically referred to as the north and south bridges.

Analog computers probably used tubes, but more like an amplifier than a switch. Analog computers work like taking a line with 1 volt potential and twisting it with another 1 volt wire, then reading the volt meter output... 2, so you just added 1 and 1. Math on analog computers is imperfect as the input voltages have to be extremely steady and without fluctuation, and the wall puts out anything but that. On the flip side, people are examples of analog computers, and not being particularly fast at math compared to digital solutions, we seem to excel in object recognition (particularly facial), as well as language comprehension.

So, at the end of the day, the other tubes likely assisted in connecting the digital computer portion of the computer to the real world, just like today's computers.


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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Wed 11, 2014 5:29 am 
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Check out this youtube video showing mythbusters Adam Savage
talking about bits and bytes showing all the "stuff" we've
been discussing;
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQWcIkoqXwg


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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Wed 11, 2014 5:31 am 
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John_L wrote:
Just like today's computers, computers made with tubes were digital machines.
As you yourself mention below, that isn't true as there were lots of analog machines. The first operational amplifier (opamp) was vacuum tube for analog computers. Image and Heathkit offered a 'home computer' too Image
John_L wrote:
... The memory units would all use the same tube type to store bits, but other tubes were used to connect the computer to the outside world (i.e. a printer).
No offense intended but you're guessing about 'what would be used for what' and there's a lot of 'forgotten' technology involved. For example, here's UNIVAC's mercury delay line memory Image
And here's the IBM 701's random access memory, a William's tube
Attachment:
Williams_tube_agr.jpg
Williams_tube_agr.jpg [ 67.23 KiB | Viewed 3280 times ]

John_L wrote:
Analog computers probably used tubes,
And mechanical devices. All the WWII Naval Fire Control systems were electro-mechanical analog computers and a slide rule is also an 'analog computer'.
John_L wrote:
... On the flip side, people are examples of analog computers ....
The human mind works on entirely different principles, much of which we haven't a clue.


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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Wed 11, 2014 6:48 am 
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Ron in Radio Heaven wrote:
Check out this youtube video showing mythbusters Adam Savage
talking about bits and bytes showing all the "stuff" we've
been discussing;...
Well, the basic impression is 'close enough' but there are serious flaws in his details and analogies. As I said before, that panel is not "a byte." That notion persists because we think in 'bytes' but that's because of ASCII, which didn't come into existence till the early 60's long after the panel he's looking at was made. IBM designers had no reason to 'think in bytes' because there weren't any. That's easy enough to see in the OP's picture by observing there is not an 8 count repeating pattern of passives under the tubes. Look, IBM 701 instructions were 18 bit, composed of a 5 bit opcode, 1 bit address sign, and 12 bit half word address, and numbers were either 18 or 36 bit, none of which are divisible by 8.

Next, he's comparing active device storage to magnetic media but nobody in his right mind, nor even an insane mad scientist, would contemplate making 'mass storage' with vacuum tube flip flops, so they didn't. The IBM 701 had two tape units (each with two tape drives), a magnetic drum memory unit, and a cathode-ray tube storage unit.

As I said, though, the 'basic impression' is 'close enough'. For example, check out these performance numbers for a 'large scale' computer, as far as 1952 goes. The 701 could perform more than 16,000 addition or subtraction operations a second, read 12,500 digits a second from tape, print 180 letters or numbers a second, and output 400 digits a second from punched-cards.


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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Wed 11, 2014 7:26 am 
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Flipperhome wrote:
Well, the basic impression is 'close enough' but there are serious flaws in his details and analogies.


I think you're missing the point, he's pointing out examples of the size of things and he made a clear distinction between memory and storage memory. No matter how you slice it up, a bit is a bit is a bit, and that big honkin' easy-swappable "bits" was an advance for it's time, but look at the size of storing one bit. Since the system 360 in the mid 60's a byte has been referred to as an 8 bit byte. even though those old systems used non standard bytes, you could always multiply the number of memory locations by the bit size and divide by 8 for a rough equivalent for the amount of memory those systems had. I say roughly because things were done quite differently in those days, as data, strings, opcodes, etc used different sized bytes. Still a generalization can be drawn to a modern day byte, and people know they have billions of bytes in their computers.


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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Wed 11, 2014 8:37 am 
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John_L wrote:
Flipperhome wrote:
Well, the basic impression is 'close enough' but there are serious flaws in his details and analogies.
I think you're missing the point, he's pointing out examples of the size of things and he made a clear distinction between memory and storage memory..
Sorry but no, I'm not "missing the point" and explicitly said the basic impression was 'close enough'. You're missing the point that I'm simply correcting errors in the, so called, 'analysis'.
John_L wrote:
No matter how you slice it up, a bit is a bit is a bit, and that big honkin' easy-swappable "bits" was an advance for it's time, but look at the size of storing one bit.
Which 'big honkin' thing are you referring to as a 'bit'? The 'one tube' module he held up? That ain't 'a bit' either. It's a 'logic module' that came in at least a half dozen different types. The 'advancement' was not in replacing so called 'bits' but in solving a reliability problem. Mean time between failure was shorter than the mean time to repair, which meant if you built the thing in 'one huge chunk' you could never get it to work since by the time you fixed one problem another for you to find would have occurred. Swapping modules meant you could just whack in a new one and bring the machine back up while you worked on what's broke. Even better was pre-emptive maintenance where you shotgun replaced all modules with X number of hours on them. Frankly, that is every bit as astonishing as the size, and intimately linked to it, as, at the time, it was miraculous to run one on an 8 hour shift, do an 8 hour evening maintenance shift, and have it able to run another 8 hour shift the very next day! Think about that the next time someone is complaining that MS doesn't 'support' a 12 year old OS on your 10 year old, still running, computer that has a thousand times more computing power in just the on-board display chip than an entire IBM 701 did.
John_L wrote:
Since the system 360 in the mid 60's a byte has been referred to as an 8 bit byte..
And I said "the early 60's." ASCII was first used commercially during 1963 as a seven-bit teleprinter code for AT&Ts TWX (TeletypeWriter eXchange) network.
John_L wrote:
even though those old systems used non standard bytes, you could always multiply the number of memory locations by the bit size and divide by 8 for a rough equivalent for the amount of memory those systems had.
'Equivalent' to what? Regardless, the point had nothing to do with 'translating' 18 bit half words to people that only think in 8 bit 'bytes'. The point was the module had nothing to do with an '8 bit byte' because the number 8 had no significance whatsoever at the time, which is the only reason people think "it's got 8 tubes... oh, wow, that must be a 'byte'." No, it mustn't.
John_L wrote:
I say roughly because things were done quite differently in those days, as data, strings, opcodes, etc used different sized bytes. Still a generalization can be drawn to a modern day byte, and people know they have billions of bytes in their computers.
I said as a "generalization" the impression was "close enough" but why perpetuate inaccuracies?


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 Post subject: Re: Vacuum tube computers?
PostPosted: Jun Wed 11, 2014 9:37 am 
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* ^
* ^ ^
* ^ ^ ^

Who didn't see ^that^ coming? :mrgreen:

Wanna see a real mechanical analog computer running? Somewhere in act 2 of Earth vs the Flying Saucers.
Looks something like a foosball table that takes up a whole large room.
You programmed it by changing pulley diameters.

Circa 1973, many US FAA radar centers ran on tube computers.
I visited one in operation, inside Diamond Head crater. And get this!
You could just walk in! Guess a guy in surfer shorts and t-shirt
didn't represent much of a threat.

You can also see inside the Diamond Head facility on (original) Hawaii 5-O.
It's real, not a mockup. For that matter, you can see ME on Hawaii 5-O
if you look VERY closely. I'm part of a crowd at the war memorial.
Making $8 an hour in 1969.


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