CyberNet's CyberDays
How It All Began…

Supercomputers can handle absolutely enormous processing tasks these days and some will be approaching 1 PFLOPS (1 Peta Floating Point Operations). It would be pretty sweet to play a game of Solitaire on that baby!

After a little research I found IBM’s Naval Ordnance Research Calculator (NORC) to be considered the first supercomputer. Of course, I am a little partial to considering the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) to be the first supercomputer because I am an Iowa State University student, which is where that was built. However, this article is taking a look at the IBM NORC…so let’s start with a quick video of it in action:

Here are some specs on the IBM NORC:

  • Decimal integer and floating-point notation and operation.
  • Word size: 16 decimal digits + check digit (64 + 2 bits).
  • 64 three-address instructions.
  • Clock: 1 µsec.
  • 15,000 operations per second with automatic error checking.
  • Two universal registers, one million digits per second.
  • Three address/index registers.
  • Add time: 15 µsec. Multiply: 31 µsec. Divide: 227 µsec.
  • Random-access CRT memory: 3600 words, 8 sec access, provided by 264 Williams-type CRTs
  • Magnetic tape: 8 units, 4-track, 510 char/inch, 71,500 char/sec.
  • Printers: 2 units, 120 char/line, 150 lines/minute.
  • Offline card/tape converter.
  • Control console: Decimal display of register contents, manual controls, status lights.
  • Swappable components.
  • Cost: approximately $2.5 million (1950s dollars).

This bad boy could calculate PI in just 13 minutes to a precision of 3,089 digits! Wowsers! ;)

To assemble this supercomputer it took 60 people and more than 9800 vacuum tubes. I find it very interesting to see how far computers have come and how small they have gotten. It makes me wonder how long it will be before the PDA’s will be at the same speeds as our current computers run at. I’m sure it will be a lot quicker than we think.

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