BabyBaby: A 1948 Computer on an FPGA

The Manchester Baby seems simple today. A 32-bit machine with 32 words of storage. It wasn’t meant to be a computer, though, but a test bed for the new Williams tube storage device. However, in 1948, it executed stored programs at about 1,100 instructions per second. The success of the machine led to a series of computers at Manchester University and finally to the first commercially available computer, the Ferranti Mark I.

[Dave] is lucky enough to volunteer to demonstrate the Baby replica at Machester’s Museum of Science Industry. He wanted his own Baby, so he used a Xilinx FPGA board to build a replica Baby┬ánamed BabyBaby. Although it runs at the same speed as the original, it is–mercifully–much smaller than the real machine.

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World’s oldest computer music unveiled


Fans of music made with obsolete technology are in for a treat: recordings of a Ferranti Mark 1 computer playing Baa Baa Black Sheep and In the Mood were recently released, and they are thought to be the oldest recordings of computer generated music in existence.

The Ferranti Mark 1 is a commercial version of Manchester University’s SSEM computer (aka Baby), which preceded several more well known computers like UNIVAC and EDVAC. It was one of the first computers that didn’t require a great deal of hardware rewiring to perform different tasks, making it ideal for this sort of purpose. It is not known whether the program was written to play these songs only or for more diverse composition and playback, but the author, [Chris Strachey] was known to be a friend of the legendary [Alan Turing]. The recording was released as part of the Manchester SSEM’s 60th anniversary celebration.