A Complete History Of Mainframe Computing

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1ce

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May 29, 2009
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Really cool. One observation, on page 7 I think the magnetic drum is rotating 12,500 revolutions per minute, not per second....If my harddrive could spin at 12,500 revolutions per second I'm sure it could do all sorts of amazing things like flying or running Crysis.
 

pugwash

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Good article, however although not quite "Complete". There is no mention of Collosus (which was used to break Enigma codes from 1944) or The Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM), nicknamed Baby, which was the world's first stored-program computer which ran its first program in June 1948.
 

dunnody

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I am with pugwash - its a good article but why does it seem like it is a bit US centric, no mention of Alan Turning or "Baby" and the Enigma code cracking machines of Bletchley Park
 

candide08

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I agree with others, in that I am surprised that there was not even a mention of a Turing machine or other very early "computers".

Surely they qualified as Mainframes of their times?
 
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It's a shame that multiplication, addition and division benchmarks are not persistently noted throughout the article.

I know that now a days it's very much dependent on software design, but it would still be nice to follow the progression in terms of calculation power of the machines.
 

scook9

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So.....can it play Crysis?

Out of curiosity, since its a metric I am more familiar with, what would the TeraFLOPS rating be in the newest and bestest from IBM. And how much would one of those bad boys set you back in the wallet.

Was a very educational and interesting article.
 

lamorpa

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"The 704 was quite fast, being able to perform 4,000 integer multiplications or divides per second. However, as mentioned, it was also capable of doing floating point arithmetic natively and could perform almost 12,000 floating-point additions or subtractions per second. More than this, the 704 added index registers, which not only dramatically sped up branches, but also reduced program development time (since this was handled in hardware now)."

Many of these statements are sure to be wrong. 1) For sure, it would not be faster at floating point than integer. 2) Index registers have to do with memory addressing, not branching.
 

ta152h

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First, I agree with the title being misleading, and I apologize for it. It was never intended to be a complete guide, which would be virtually impossible. I don't know why that title was chosen.

The choice of computers was U.S. centric, because computers were U.S. centric. I chose only one mechanical computer, and it was made by IBM, since they were the dominant company. To add more computers would have been boring, and none of them were important technological milestones. So, while they might be specifically interesting to you, I was of the opinion too many computers from the same time frame would be boring. I almost chose the EDSAC over the EDVAC, but, went with the first design over the first implementation.

With regards to the index registers, "the IBM 704 added index registers and a “TSX” instruction that would branch to an address but leave the address of the TSX in an index register. A single unmodified branch could use that index register value to return."

Loops involve branching, branching involves memory addressing.

With regards to floating point vis-a-vis integer, you need to be more careful about what you're sure of. For one, multiplies and divides are generally slower, being much more complex. But, more to the point, this information is available directly from IBM.
 
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As one who live the mainframe era from the 2k machines for $500K...this story is incomplete without the story of the competition that was the force behind the commercial introduction at a furious pace of things we take for granted today.

Any mention of mainframes without the Honeywell H-800 series, the H200 series or Multics leaves out systems that have had a large influence on computing as we know it. The H-800 was one of the first multiprocessing systems of the late '50s, the H-200 was Honeywell's answer to the 1401 in the '60s and Multics merely contributed much of the hardware architecture for the Intel CPU used in today's PCs and foreshadowed UNIX and many of the development tools we use today. I saw no mention of GE and their 600-6000 series. And NCR. (Remember the term "BUNCH" as the competitors to IBM.)

So starting in the '50s, you should also have the history of the BUNCH woven in even to their demise. Not every great idea originated from IMB (though many did).

 
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Nice article, it was fun to review that history. I would have added mention of the groundbreaking Cray machines, especially the seminal Cray-1 (and it's successor X-MP) as the first "supercomputer." The X-MP looked like a futuristic chaise lounge with the main circuits in a center column surrounded by a circular padded bench. They were so arranged to reduce interconnecting wire lengths, as the speed was limited by the time it took electrons to travel through the interconnects...a speed of light limitation! The later Cray-2 was unique in that it was completely immersed in a bath of liquid Flourinert to cool the dense circuitry.
 

aspireonelover

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Great Article! I learned something new today! I've never been so "into" the computer history before.
Thanks Rich Arzoomanian for writing this article.
 

jsloan

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all jokes aside, this is the best tom's hardware article i have read to date. thanks for taking the time, effort and expense for putting it together.
 

Alien_959

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Very nice article. I learned very interesting things connected to development of computer architecture. My father used to work on some of these systems and he even has some of the original documentation stored somewhere. Also I have one intake fan from some IBM mainframe that my father removed ( I don't know the model) runs on 220V and uses 54 watts, still runs fine manly is used for cooling amplifiers or overclocked PC's:)
 
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It's so funny to read, but our so called 'underpowered netbooks' probably where faster than any computer upto pic 22!
You read constantly of '20x faster', '30xfaster', but the Atom processor just beats the crap out of all those models save the last 2!
 

xi1inx

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I found that article very interresting and give it my "Must to read" mention. I've followed Tomshardware once 1997 and, i've also read the famous "Jumperless bios" on socket 7 article, but I found this article very instructive about mainframes. Mainframe are somewhat unknown by many pc user now, and I give you M. Arzoomanian, a five! Mainframe computers is the machine on the very top end of the computer ecosystem and the Atom processor have no point in common with the finest of one processor we could found in a mainframe. Remember that Atom cpu is a 5$ cpu, not a 5K and up cpu! To conclude, in Fallout 3, we can see some mainframe computers and use some terminals. And yes, I remember to have see and talk to a certain M. Von Neumann (lol!!!).

 
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