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January 14, 2011

EDSAC computer to be rebuilt at Bletchley Park

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by Darren Allan

The computer boffins at Bletchley Park are all set to rebuild the EDSAC computer.

EDSAC stood for Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator, and when it was built in 1949, it was was one of the first commercial stored-program computers ever constructed.

Sir Maurice Wilkes was the architect of the room-sized machine, which used mercury delay lines for memory, and vacuum tubes for logic, along with punched tape and a teleprinter for input and output respectively.

Sir Wilkes died at the beginning of last month, aged 97, but now Bletchley Park will recreate his early computer. The rebuild will apparently take three years, according to a BBC report, and has a budget of some £250,000.

It should be a pretty faithful replica, aside from one notable element – the mercury delay lines, which won’t be allowed these days due to obvious health and safety issues. Wilkes lived back in simpler days when mercury was just fine to use, and folks slept on asbestos pillows.

The scientists will have to find another substance to substitute for mercury.

Bletchley has previously restored other aged British computers, such as the Harwell Machine, or WITCH, a far cooler acronym than EDSAC (until you discover it stands for Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell, which rather diminishes that cool factor).

Story link: EDSAC computer to be rebuilt at Bletchley Park


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