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Vacuum Tube Computer

A vacuum tube computer is a computer system built primarily using vacuum tubes and vacuum tube logic. Vacuum tube switching replaced the earlier relay computers from the 1940s. Vacuum tube computer gained traction during the 1950s through the early 1960s. By the mid 1960s transistor computers superseded vacuum tubes.


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Early relay computers were rather slow - operating at just 1Hz ((or one switching operation each second). They were cheap and readily available due to their widespread use in telephone systems. Vacuum tubes prove to be a significant improvement over electromechanical relays - operating 1000 times faster. However the performance advantage came at the cost of decreased reliability and maintainance. Tube failure was frequent, running hot and burning out rapidly.

Vacuum Tube Systems[edit]

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System Designer Company/Institution Tube Count Year Notes
ABC John Vincent Atanasoff Iowa State University 300 1940
Colossus Mark 1 Post Office Research Station 1,600 1943
Colossus Mark 2 Post Office Research Station 2,400 1944
ENIAC University of Pennsylvania 17,468 1946 relays/vacuum tubes hybrid
SSEM Victoria University of Manchester 1948
BINAC EMCC 700 1949
EDSAC Maurice Wilkes University of Cambridge 3,000 1949
Manchester Mark I Victoria University of Manchester 1,300 1949
CSIRAC Trevor Pearcey 2,000 1949
MADDIDA Northrop Aircraft 53 1949
SEAC NIST 747 1950
Pilot ACE National Physical Laboratory 800 1950
Harvard Mark III Howard Aiken 5,000 1950
SWAC NIST 2,300 1950
UNIVAC 1101 ERA 2,700 1950
Ferranti Mark I Ferranti 4,050 1951
UNIVAC I EMCC 5,200 1951
Whirlwind I MIT 12,500 1951
Whirlwind II MIT 50,000 1951 Never completed, AN/FSQ-7 a direct derivative
EDVAC University of Pennsylvania 6,000 1951
WITCH Harwell 828 1951 Made with 480 relays, 828 Dekatron valves for math
ORDVAC University of Illinois 2,178 1951
LEO I 5,936 1951
IAS Computer IAS 1952
Model 409 Remington Rand 800 1952
Harvard Mark IV Howard Aiken 1952
ILLIAC I University of Illinois 2,800 1952
MANIAC I Los Alamos National Laboratory 1952
BESM-1 5,000 1952
701 IBM 4,000 1952
BESM-2 4,000 1957

See also[edit]

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