Exploring The Bendix G-15’s Typewriter

The Bendix Corporation’s Bendix G-15 was introduced in 1956 as an affordable system for industrial and scientific markets. As with any computer system, a range of peripheral devices for input and output were available, which includes an electric typewriter. Produced by IBM, this typewriter was heavily modified by Bendix, with the version that [Usagi Electric] got their mittens on being equipped with a gigantic 28″ platen. With just power applied to the machine it will even still work as a regular electric typewriter, but it can do much more.

The bits that make an IBM electric typewriter into a Bendix G-15 accessory. (Credit: Usagi Electric)
The bits that make an IBM electric typewriter into a Bendix G-15 accessory. (Credit: Usagi Electric)

Most typewriters for the G-15 have a much smaller platen, as can be seen in the brochures for the system. The typewriter is connected together with other peripherals like plotters, card punches and tabulators via a coupler which uses a 5-bit interface. For the encoding on this interface no standard encoding is used, but rather 4 bits are used as data followed by 1 bit to indicate a command. In addition a number of other signal lines are used with the Bendix G-15, which allows control over the punch card reader and run status on the computer from the comfort of the typewriter’s desk.

In addition to the added electronics that communicate with the Bendix G-15, there are also solenoids and sensors which interface with the typewriter’s keyboard. This is what allows for command keys on the typewriter to be recorded separately along with the regular number and letter keys, in addition to the Bendix G-15 using the typewriter to automatically type on the paper. After a good cleaning session the typewriter’s basic functionality is restored, with the hope that once the Bendix G-15 over at the Usagi Farm can power up its DC circuit both will happily chat with each other. Color us excited.

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Random Access Memory From A Rotating Drum In A Bendix G15

When it’s the 1950s and you are tasked to design a computer system that features not only CPU registers but also a certain amount of RAM, you do not have a lot of options. At this point in time, discrete logic was the rule, and magnetic core memory still fairly new and rather expensive. This is where the rotating drum comes in, which is somewhat like a cross between an old-style cylinder record and a hard drive. In a recent [Usagi Electric] video, a 1950s Bendix G15 system is demonstrated, which features such a rotating drum device, alongside both tube-based circuits and newfangled diode-based circuitry.

Simplified diagram of a rotating drum random access memory unit, showing the read-erase-write process as the drum spins.
Simplified diagram of a rotating drum random access memory unit, showing the read-erase-write process as the drum spins.

This particular unit was borrowed from the System Source museum, with the intent to restore it to a working condition. Part of this process involved figuring out the circuitry, which was made easy by the circuit schematic drawings that came with the original machine. According to the official brochure by the manufacturer, the ‘short lines’ that are intended for the CPU registers, the access time was less than 1 millisecond, which is pretty darn fast considering the era and the discrete CPU’s clock speed.

For the drum itself, however, popping the cover off the unit showed that it had suffered some damage that had resulted in the multiple heads contacting the surface. Despite this disappointment, it’s not the end of the restoration, however. The museum has one more Bendix G15 standing around, with a rotating drum unit that looks to be in mint condition. The damaged magnetic coating on the other rotating drum may conceivably be resurfaced, which if successful could provide new hope to a lot of retro systems out there that also use magnetic media, whether in drum or disk format.

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Mysterious Adder From 1960s Bendix G-20

[David Lovett] aka Usagi Electric is taking a dive into yet another old computer design, this one from the early 1960s. He recently obtained eight mystery circuit boards on-loan for the purpose of reverse engineering them. It turns out these came from an old mainframe called the Bendix G-20, a successor to the 1965 G-15 vacuum tube model. The cards are:

  • Full Adder
  • AND Gate
  • OR Gate
  • Emitter Follower
  • Flip Flop
  • Quad Inverting Amplifier
  • DLO Amplifier
  • Gated CPA

Most of these are pretty straightforward to figure out, but he ran into some troubles trying to understand the full adder board. The first issue is there is some uncertainty surrounding the logic level voltages. This system uses negative voltages, with -3.5 V representing a logic 1 … or is it a logic 0? And even taking into account this ambiguity, [David] is having a hard time deciphering how the adder works. It uses a bunch of diodes to implement a logic lookup table of an adder — except he is not able to make it match any known addition scheme. [David] has called out to the community for help on this one, and if you have any ideas how this adder works, visit his wiki linked above for more information and give him shout.

We don’t know how [David] squeezes in the time for these side projects, when he is so busy on the Centurion mini-computer restoration and the monstrous single-bit vacuum tube computer he is building.

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