Before IBM was synonymous with personal computers, they were synonymous with large computers. If you didn’t live it, it was hard to realize just how ubiquitous IBM computers were in most industries. And the flagship of the mainframe world was the IBM System/360. For a whole generation that grew up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a 360 was probably what you thought of when someone said computer. [Computer History Archive Project] has a loving recollection of the machine with a lot of beautiful footage from places like NASA and IBM itself. You can see the video below.
Not only was the 360 physically imposing, but it had lots of lights, switches, and dials that appealed to the nerdiest of us. The machines were usually loud, too, with a Selectric terminal, card punches and readers, noisy 9-track tape drives, and a line printer or two.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The IBM System/360 Remembered”
By now, [CuriousMarc] and his team of volunteers are well versed in 1960s hardware restoration. So when a vintage IBM I/O Tester came into their possession, a full machine makeover was all but inevitable.
The I/O Tester dates from around 1965, which roughly coincides with the introduction of IBM’s lauded System/360 computer mainframe. In addition to the computer itself, business customers could order a variety of peripherals with their computing system. These included storage devices, printers, additional operator consoles, and so on. Since these peripherals shared the same I/O design, a portable hardware testing rig was a sensible design choice. One portable low-voltage tester could be paired with any number of IBM peripherals, doing away with the need to have unique debugging panels on every piece of computing hardware.
Fast forward to the present day, and the IBM I/O Tester looks positively antique with its blinkenlight lamp panel and switches. To use the tester, simply connect up one (or both) of its chunky 104-pin connectors to your IBM peripheral of choice, insert the accompanying paper overlay, and voilà. Operators could then observe the status of the many lamps to evaluate the inner digital workings of the connected peripheral. Depending on the connected hardware, the tester could reveal the contents of data registers, printing status, disk and tape transfer status, and probably much more. The purpose of the tester’s ninety indicator lights is completely dependent on the attached peripheral, and the paired paper overlays are essential to comprehend their meaning.
After [Ken Shirriff] deciphered the documentation, it wasn’t long before the tester could be powered up using 24 VAC (normally supplied by the equipment being tested). Several burned out lamps were noted for replacement. The lamp assemblies required minor surgery due to a dubious design choice, and at least one of the toggle switches needed a new guide and a heavy dose of contact cleaner before it came back to life.
For the moment, [CuriousMarc] is using the blinkenlights panel as a surprisingly striking retro clock. With a literal truckload of vintage IBM hardware sitting in his storage, it’ll be exciting to see whether this restored tester will be pulled back into operational service someday. Readers should also check out our coverage of his previous major project, restoring an Apollo Guidance Computer.
Continue reading “Restoring A Vintage IBM I/O Tester”
It’s a story that may be familiar to many of us, that of bidding on an item in an online auction and discovering once we go to pick it up that we’ve bought a bit more than we’d bargained for. We told you earlier in the year about the trio of Brits who bought an IBM System/360 mainframe computer from the mid 1960s off of a seller in Germany, only to find in the long-abandoned machine room that they’d bought not just one but two 360s, and a System/370 to boot. Their van was nowhere near big enough for all three machines plus a mountain of cabling, documentation, and period storage media, so they moved it to a hastily-rented storage unit and returned home to work out what on earth to do next.
Now we’ve received an email from the trio with some good news; not only have they managed to bring their hoard of vintage big iron computing back home, but also they’ve found a home for it in the rather unusual surroundings of a former top-secret UK Government signals intelligence station. With the help of a friendly specialist IT relocation company they unleashed it from their temporary storage and into the truck for the UK. It’s a tale of careful packing and plenty of wrapped pallets, as we begin to glimpse the true extent of the collection as you can see in the video below the break, because not only have they secured all the hardware but they also have a huge quantity of punched cards and disk packs. The prospect of a software archaeology peek into how a 1960s mainframe was used by its original customer is a particularly interesting one, as it’s likely those media contain an ossified snapshot of its inner workings.
We’re hoping to follow this project as it evolves, and see (we hope) a room full of abandoned junk transformed into a facsimile of a typical 1960s business computing setup. If you’d like to catch up, read our original coverage of the find.
Continue reading “The Barn Find IBM 360 Comes Home”
Some of the best adventures in the world of hardware hacking start in the pub. For three volunteers at the National Museum Of Computing in the UK, [Adam Bradley], [Chris Blackburn], and [Peter Vaughan], theirs started over a pint with an eBay listing for an old computer in Germany. No problem you might think, we’re well used to international parcel shipping. This computer wasn’t a crusty old Commodore 64 though, instead it was a room-sized IBM System/360 Model 20 from the 1960s, complete with the full array of peripherals and what seemed to be a lot of documentation and software media. It would need a Mercedes Sprinter, a large van, to shift it, but that seemed feasible. With a bit of frantic bidding they secured the auction, and set off for Germany to view their purchase.
Arriving at the machine’s location they found a little bit more than they had expected. In an abandoned building on a side street in Nuremburg there was an intact machine room full of the IBM computer cabinets over a false floor with all the machine cabling in place, and the only usable access was through a street door which hadn’t been opened in decades and which was obstructed by the false floor itself. To cap it all they found they’d bought not one but two System/360s, and also unexpectedly a 1970s System/370 Model 125. Clearly this was more than a job for a quick in-and-out with a Sprinter.
What followed became a lengthy saga of repeated trips, van hire, constructing ramps, and moving heavy computer parts to a hastily rented storage unit. Decabling a computer of this size is no easy task at the best of times, and these cables had spent many decades in a neglected machine room. It’s a fascinating read, and a very well-documented one with plenty of photos. The machines now sit in their storage units awaiting a return to the UK, and the trio are soliciting any help they can find to make that happen. So if you happen to own a European haulage company with spare capacity on your Germany — UK route or if you can help them in any way, donate or get in touch with them. We think this project has much more to offer, so we’ll be following their progress with interest.
These three intrepid computer hunters were brought together at The National Museum Of Computing at Bletchley, UK. If you find yourself within range it is an essential place to visit, we did so in 2016.