"Think your vintage Computer hardware is old?" writes long-time Slashdot reader corrosive_nf. "Ken Shirriff, Robert Garne, and their associates probably have you beat. "The IBM 1401 was introduced in 1959, and these guys are keeping one alive in a computer museum... [T]he volunteers have to go digging through historical archives and do some detective work to figure out solutions to pretty much anything!" Many things that we take for granted are done very differently in old computers. For instance, the IBM 1401 uses 6-bit characters, not bytes. It used decimal memory addressing, not binary. It's also interesting how much people could accomplish with limited resources, running a Fortran compiler on the 1401 with just 8K of memory. Finally, working on the 1401 has given them a deeper understanding of how computers really work. It's not a black box; you can see the individual transistors that are performing operations and each ferrite core that stores a bit. "It's a way of keeping history alive," says one of the volunteers at Silicon Valley's Computer History museum. "For museum visitors, seeing the IBM 1401 in operation gives them a feeling for what computers were like in the 1960s, the full experience of punching data onto cards and then seeing and hearing the system processing cards.... "So far, things are breaking slowly enough that we can keep up, so it's more of a challenge than an annoyance."
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