retro classic vintage computers and computing: hardware, software and experience

old is new again...or at least re-discovered

Computing has an interesting and varied history over the last several decades in Tasmania, and these pages are intended to compile that history, provide a long-term repository and establish a community to share experiences and combine efforts involving classic/vintage/retro computers, both hardware, software and anything related.

retro - "retro" derives from the Latin prefix retro, meaning "backwards" or "in past times"
Computing - the activity of using and developing computer technology, computer hardware and software
Tasmania - where the participants live and the focus for much of the historical research.

Partial list of early digital computers in Tasmania

Please contribute corrections and additions to this table of early computers in Tasmania.

Year Computer Who Notes  Note: not the actual machines unless indicated
1962  ICT 1301 Cadbury-Fry-Pascall 5 tonnes, 65 square metres, and 4000 circuit boards
1964 Elliott 503 Hydro-University Computing Centre (HUCC). Joint facility operated by the Hydro-Electric Commission and the University of Tasmania. The Elliott Brothers 503 computer operated for 14-years: June 1964 - 1977.

These pictures are of the
Hydro-University Computing Centre (HUCC) Elliott 503 installation with supporting DEC PDP-8/F and PDP-8/L minicomputer systems in the background. Click the pictures for a larger image.

Hydro-University Computing Centre (HUCC) 503 finally "ceased normal operations" on Friday, 29th October 1976, but continued beyond that time to provide paper tape and plotter device support to the newly installed Burroughs B6700.

John Boothroyd's letter to Algol Bulletin No 19, Jan 1965:

University of Tasmania Elliott 503 console with supporting PDP-8 systems circa 1974.

10-second video clip showing the University of Tasmania/Hydro-Electric Commission (HUCC) Elliott 503 circa 1966.

1965 IBM 1440 Transport Commission Operated for 16-years, August 1965 until 1-Dec-1980.
 early 1970s
 Burroughs B1900
 University of Tasmania
Details still to be discovered.

For several years in the 1970s the University of Tasmania operated a Burroughs B1900 in its Administration section, mostly likely for accounting operations.

The Burroughs B1900 was later replaced with an IBM System/38 and then this was replaced with an IBM AS/400.

1975  Burroughs B6700 University of Tasmania Operated for 7-years, Nov-1975 until June-1982

Burroughs B6700 model B6748S commissioned on 11-Nov-1975 to replace the Elliott 503 computer (see above).

The top picture of the B6700 front-panel (engineers) display to the right shows the well known stylised B "drawn" in the lights - this was the CPU idle pattern so the "B" flickered in and out as the CPU switched between idle and busy, the idle times usually resulted from the CPU waiting for input/output requests to be completed by storage devices like disk or tape. Like most mainframe computer designs the Burroughs large systems family made extensive use of IO processors to relieve the CPU of directly controlling data transfers involving peripherals.

UTAS UCC B6700 installation
Jun-1982 - Dec 1985Burroughs B6800University of Tasmania The Burroughs B6800 replaced the Burroughs B6700 at the University of Tasmania. The new B6800 installation used some of the peripherals (disk, tape) from the previous B6700 installation. The Mercury newspaper (25-June-1982) reported the purchase of the B6800.

The Burroughs B6800 was decommissioned on 17-December-1985 (as reported in Issue No. 42 of University of Tasmania Computer Centre Newsletter).
1983PR1ME P750University of Tasmania A Prime 32-bit minicomputer was installed early in 1983 to support the B6800 purchased the previous year. Reported in The Mercury newspaper 1-March-1983: "This order follows orders for Prime machines from the Department of Main Roads and the Department of Transport in Tasmania." 
 1985 - early 1990s (1992?)PR1ME P9955University of TasmaniaComputerworld 21-June-1985:
"HOBART - In an $A850,000 order the University of Tasmania has chosen a Prime 9955 to replace a Burroughs B6800 to meet research and teaching needs."

"Prime will supply the 9955 with 8M-bytes of main memory, 675M-bytes of fixed disk, 300M-bytes of removable disk, and 75 bits/in tape drive. The processor has 64 asynchronous terminal ports.
Node controllers will use Prime's Ring-net running under Primenet to connect the 9955 with two existing Prime machines, a 750 and a 2250. A 1000 line/minute printer will be part of the purchase."

UTAS UCC machine room showing the Prime systems.

Computing connections with a Tasmanian flavour

Not  a complete list and biased by the authors' experience and uncertain memory, additions and corrections welcome!
  • 1964 - Hydro Electric Commission and University of Tasmania jointly operate an Elliott 503 computer programmed in Elliott ALGOL (The Hydro-University Computing Centre) - brochure for the Elliott 503
  • 1969/1970 - Tasmania was an early leader in introducing computers into high-school, matriculation, technical and university education
  • 1977 - Professor Arthur Sale (UTAS) and colleagues developed one of the first Pascal compilers for the Burroughs B6700 mainframe, and the PVS (Pascal Validation Suite), one of the first attempts to validate programming language implementations
  • 1979 - EF Codd named one of his seminal papers on relational database theory Relational Model/Tasmania (RM/T)  - a copy of Codd's RM/T paper is here
  • 1980 - Tasmanian enterprises were early and enthusiastic users of the UNIX operating system (in its many forms)
  • 1980s - Protel was started in Hobart and became a global vendor of computer aided printed-circuit-board design software
  • 1970s onwards - Professor Phillip (Pip) Hamilton AM, followed up the discovery of the first pulsar and was later responsible for the discovery of a number of pulsars using the Parkes Telescope and its DEC PDP-9 as well as computers at UTAS and CSIRO Radiophysics Division. Professor Hamilton et al also elucidated key properties of pulsars that led to the currently-accepted rotating neutron star model of the pulsar.


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