Print 35 comment(s) - last by SlyNine.. on Nov 24 at 4:00 PM

The Witch is being unveiled at a ceremony at the National Museum of Computing today

The world's oldest original working digital computers has been restored and brought back to life in a UK museum. 

The computer, called the Witch (short for Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computation from Harwell), is from the 1950s and was used to replace adding machines. 

The Witch was first designed and and built in 1949 to help the UK's Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell in Oxfordshire with calculations. In 1951, the 2.5 tonne computer was ran for the first time. However, at that point, the Witch was called the Harwell Dekatron. 

The Harwell Dekatron took up to about 10 seconds to multiply two numbers, and was used about 80 hours per week. But in 1957, smaller and faster computers hit the scene, and the Harwell Dekatron was moved to the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Technical College to teach programming. This is where it acquired its new name, the Witch. 

Later, in 1973, it was donated to Birmingham's Museum of Science and Industry, where it was displayed until 1997 when the museum closed. From there, the Witch was taken apart and stored. 

The Witch had been forgotten until a trustee from The National Museum of Computing, named Kevin Murrell, noticed the Witch's control panel in a photograph brought in by another computer conservationist. He recognized the parts after having seen the Witch many times as a teenager. 

This led to the restoration effort for the Witch, where it's piece were found in storage and reassembled. After cleaning it up and replacing a few parts, the Witch is alive again. About 480 relays and 828 Dekatron tubes are all original on the computer, making the Witch nearly completely original to its former 1950s self. 

The Witch is being unveiled at a ceremony at the National Museum of Computing today. 

Source: BBC

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By kattanna on 11/20/2012 2:24:00 PM , Rating: 5
I find it still awesome how we have gone from

10 seconds to multiply two numbers

to petaflops today. and in only 60 years

RE: awesome
By martyrant on 11/20/2012 2:47:45 PM , Rating: 2
There are quite a few people who can do that faster in their head I'm sure.

RE: awesome
By kleinma on 11/20/2012 3:01:07 PM , Rating: 3
I doubt it. Maybe some savants, but it didn't exactly say it took 10 seconds to multiply 2x2.

It could very well be that it took 10 seconds to multiply

RE: awesome
By vanionBB on 11/20/2012 3:15:11 PM , Rating: 3
Even these kids can do it faster!

RE: awesome
By DanNeely on 11/20/2012 3:24:49 PM , Rating: 2
Before calculators in rotted my brain (shortly after being allowed to use them in math class for all assignments) I was able to multiply 4 digits (23*34 or 6*789) mentally faster than anyone I knew could mash buttons and could beat most people at 5 digits. It's been a long time since then so I'm not certain on my speed anymore but 8-15s probably would've been enough time for something like 9876x5432.

The trick was to work left to right so you could read out/write down the most significant part of the number and clear it from your working space before computing the least significant part.

RE: awesome
By DanNeely on 11/20/2012 3:30:42 PM , Rating: 3
the Wikipedia article on the computer says it had 8 digit registers; of a type normally used to store base10 digits. Depending on how it handled overflow it's maximum multiplication might have been as low as 9999*9999, 9999999*10, or equivalents.

RE: awesome
By Flunk on 11/20/2012 3:53:57 PM , Rating: 2
Old computers didn't handle overflow, it would have just literally overflowed the register and the answer would be incorrect.

RE: awesome
By martyrant on 11/20/2012 3:50:34 PM , Rating: 2
There are over 7 billion people on the planet, I said "quite a few" which is probably about right. It's probably not a handful, and it's probably not hundreds or thousands, but I bet there are quite a few people who could certainly out process this dinosaur at it's own game seeing as our fastest super computers are just now becoming as fast as the human brain.

People underestimate the human race because we are force fed things like mass media, jersey shore, and other pointless entertainment feeds that really do nothing for our cognitive processes other than stagnate it.

There are still plenty of smart, reasonable people in the world. We just have to find a way to get them into power and push out these moronic politicians, CEOs, judges, what-have-you, who can barely put together a sentence without having it written for them.

RE: awesome
By SlyNine on 11/24/2012 3:57:20 PM , Rating: 2
"our fastest super computers are just now becoming as fast as the human brain."

How can you make that statement? Do you have any idea how fast the brain is or how it works. No, you don't, because no one does.

At over 100 billion neurons with each neuron having up to 7000 synapses, and having no idea how these equal a consciousness or even store memories. We simply don't know.

RE: awesome
By Etern205 on 11/23/2012 9:49:24 AM , Rating: 3
He's one, the human calculator

RE: awesome
By Dribble on 11/21/2012 10:30:48 AM , Rating: 3
But can they do it continuously for 80 hours a week without making any mistakes?

RE: awesome
By Tony Swash on 11/20/2012 3:19:39 PM , Rating: 2
I share that sentiment.

Back in the very early 1980s I bought an Amstrad PC to do admin work for our company, it ran CP/M. It had no hard drive so after much consideration I forked out several hundred pounds for an external hard drive, it sounded like a hairdryer when it was turned on and it was the size of a large attached case. It's capacity was 20 megabytes. At the time I though that was more than enough storage for everything I would ever want to save :)

Now I wouldn't be able to fit a single image from my Nikon D800 DSLR onto that drive and the USB key ring I carry in my pocket holds several thousand times as much data for a trivial cost.

It's good to live through times of such visible and dramatic progress.

RE: awesome
By Sazabi19 on 11/20/2012 3:32:51 PM , Rating: 2
Early 80s? I thought you were 15 or 16... Early 80s makes you older than me... I don't see that :P"

RE: awesome
By Flunk on 11/20/2012 3:54:57 PM , Rating: 3
You don't need to be young to be a troll.

RE: awesome
By Tony Swash on 11/20/2012 6:44:08 PM , Rating: 3
Early 80s? I thought you were 15 or 16... Early 80s makes you older than me... I don't see that :P"

It's the hair dye ;)

RE: awesome
By inperfectdarkness on 11/21/2012 2:16:38 AM , Rating: 3
so what happened to ENIAC?

RE: awesome
By Magnus909 on 11/22/2012 6:55:21 AM , Rating: 2
But this was an extremely slow and simple machine even in these days.
One of the first computers, ENIAC, was much faster as early as 1946.

From wikipedia:

A multiplication of a 10-digit number by a d-digit number (for d up to 10) took d+4 cycles, so a 10- by 10-digit multiplication took 14 cycles, or 2800 microseconds—a rate of 357 per second . If one of the numbers had fewer than 10 digits, the operation was faster

Note that this was multiplications. It could add or subtract 5000 times a second.
It was clocked at 100 khz (0.1 Mhz), but the machine cycle was 20 clock ticks (Hence the 5000 additions or subratctions)

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