Vintage Console Becomes The Calculator It Appears To Be

What’s sitting on [Bob Alexander]’s desk in the video below did not start out life as the desktop calculator it appears to be. Turning it into a standalone calculator with features the original designers couldn’t imagine turned out to be an interesting project, and a trip down the retrocomputing rabbit hole.

A little explanation is in order. Sure, with its Nixie display, calculator keypad, and chunky mid-century design, the Wang 360 desktop console looks like a retro calculator. But it’s actually only a dumb terminal for a much, MUCH bigger box, called the Electronic Package, that would fit under a desk. The foot-warming part that was once connected to [Bob]’s console by a thick cable that had been unceremoniously lopped off by a previous owner. [Bob] decided to remedy the situation with modern electronics. The console turned out to have enough room for a custom PCB carrying a PIC32, some level-shifting components, power supply modules that include the high-voltage supply for the Nixies, and a GPS module because Nixies and clocks just go together. The interesting bit is the programming; [Bob] chose to emulate the original Wang methods of doing math, which include multiplication by logarithmic addition. Doing so replicates the original look and feel of the calculator down to the rapid progression of numbers across the Nixies as the logarithms are calculated using the display registers.

We normally frown on vintage gear being given modern guts, but in this case [Bob] hit just the right balance of new and old, And given that the Electronic Packages these consoles were connected to go for $1500 or more on eBay, it was a better choice than letting the console go to scrap. A similarly respectful approach was taken with this TRS80 Model 100 revival.

9 thoughts on “Vintage Console Becomes The Calculator It Appears To Be

  1. $1500? I can’t see it getting that even if they;re asking that. I know of three of these boat anchors at work… You know you had to periodically clean the card edge connectors with a pencil eraser? Not much call for four person electronic calculators, even if they look cool.

  2. They used to have one of these at the Boston Museum of Science. Wang probably donated it, and I was fascinated by it as a teen. Even so, $1500 seems a bit high,…but ebay. Whatever the market will bear, I guess.

    +1 for the Nixies, though. Still the coolest digit displays ever.

  3. Wang use to have a building in Burlington, MA across the street from the Burlington Mall. I was in Lexington at the time, and a short hike through the woods would bring me to the back of their parking lot, and then on to the mall.

  4. My first encounter with Wang equipment was a Wang VS system at my Dad’s work in the early 1980’s. It was all text and it came with a version of Pacman I played for hours. I still remember the little chimey song that the actual Winchester drive made. The shame about Wang is many companies and law firms asked them to port their software to IBM Pc’s and they refused as Wang didn’t want to cut into their hardware profits. Many of those law firms moved onto IBM PC’s with … wait for it … Workperfect ewww

    MattyD

    1. I remember the Univ of Wisconsin Madison Chemistry library had a bunch of these. In 1972 you had to stand in line to use them. A year later you could buy a 4 banger calculator for $200. A year after that the 4 banger was only $10 and I bought a HP-25C for about $150.

  5. Everybody WANG Calc tonight.

    I once took an old WANG proprietary PC compatible, I think it was a 286, and put a much newer AT style motherboard in it. The right half was standard layout with the motherboard mounting points and expansion slots conforming to the PC/AT standard. The left half was… not. The WANG had all the ports for the onboard peripherals over there, below the power supply. I just made something to block all that off. I called it a “theft proof” desktop. While it had then current innards, no thief was going to look once at it to take away.

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