A Tour of the Computer Technology Collection Erlangen

Storing and processing data has a long history. From the Middle Ages to this day, people have turned to computing aids to help them solve problems. The Computer Technology Collection Erlangen charts the development of data processing technology, from tally sticks and Zuse machines to the integrated circuit.

ISER director Dr. Guido Nockemann takes us through his treasures, offering a brief anecdote about each exhibit.

Dr. Rainer Ulrich from Fraunhofer IIS comments with his experiences.

 

300 BCE to around the beginning of the 16th century

Calculation aids

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "Everyone is introduced to computing aids when they start school. My generation had to cut counting tiles like these out of cardboard and color them in ourselves."

 

1623

Calculators

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "No comment, that was before my time."

 

Beginning of the 20th century

Crank computing engines

 

Mid-20th century

Computing machines with electric motor

 

1947 to 1970

Machina Curta from Contina AG

 

1930s to 1940s

Relay computer

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "I’m going to risk going against the flow here: relays are more compact and less delicate than electron tubes, but SIGNIFICANTLY slower."

 

1940s to 1960s

Vacuum tubes

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "In my childhood tubes were used as amplifiers in radios and televisions, not as circuits like in computers. Back then they were very sensitive to vibration and would simply burn out from time to time."

 

1960s to 1970s

Transistors

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "Earlier forms were marketed as “featuring 11 transistors.” You need thousands to make a computer. They were soldered individually onto boards; later the switch was made to a modular design."

 

1950s to 1980s

Core memory

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "The horizontal and vertical wires are the writing wires, and the wire that passes through all the cores is the reading wire. The memory depicted in the image has an incredible 64 bytes of capacity!"

 

1961 to 1967

Core memory Zuse

 

1970s to 1980s

Zilog Z80

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "This CPU had some 5000 transistors on a chip with an area of 10 mm². It was used in a great many home and personal computers. Compared to Intel’s 8080, the Z80 was better integrated, required only one operating voltage and had many useful additional commands and registries. It was able to run 8080 computer code without modification. The Z80 is still around today as a functional element for field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) or as a CMOS variant."

 

1974 to 1990s

First chips and motherboards

 

Into the 1980s

Drum memory

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "The image shows a magnetic drum memory, an early predecessor of the magnetic disk."

 

1960s and 1970s

Removable hard disks

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "Hard drives used to be large, noisy and expensive. Should there be a sudden loss of power, there was always the danger that the read-and-write head would land on the disk and cause damage. Before turning off such disks, you always had to first move the heads to their resting position. I remember once there was a small fire here at RRZE. An operator could be seen coolly executing the shutdown sequence, shutting off the power and only then grabbing the fire extinguisher to fight the fire."

 

1970s to 1980s

Removable hard disks and tape drives

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: »When reading and writing, the tapes didn’t run at a constant speed but instead tended to jerk along. To prevent the tape from tearing, there were tape loops that were drawn in using negative pressure. Once when reading my tape, the vacuum collapsed, tearing the tape in several places and rendering it unusable. I’m just glad I had a backup.«

 

19th century

Punch cards

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "Back in 1978, when I did my first programming course at RRZE, we were still making punched cards. Each card represented a line of programming. If you made a mistake, you had to start all over again – you couldn’t “unpunch” a hole. But some of us figured out that you could copy the card up to the error and then continue. You could number the punched cards in the final column, which was very practical if the operator was careless when inserting the cards and dropped them all."

 

1966

Targeting computers

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "I never worked with targeting computers."

 

Since the 1970s

Programmable computer

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "In 1974, a school club I belonged to had a programmable computer made by Diehl. We used nested intervals to calculate pi. Every couple of minutes, the printing mechanism would rattle, indicating another iteration was complete. After five days of continuous operation, the power adapter died. At that point, we had calculated pi to no more than ten correct digits."

 

1982

Calculator watch

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "I never had a calculator watch – I wasn’t nerd enough for that."

 

1980s

Microcomputer

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "The Commodore 64. This came out in 1982 and you had to connect it to your TV’s aerial socket. Using the BASIC programming language and block graphics, you could also program games. You then saved what you programmed onto an audio cassette using an external drive. And if you willing to spend some money, you could get a reader for 5¼-inch disks."

 

1982

Home computer IBM PS/2-30

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "The IBM PS/2 featured a 32-bit processor and a hard drive that was massive for its time. The starter model shown here was actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing: it had just a 16-bit processor. The VGA graphics offering a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels and 256 colors was state of the art at the time. Due to flaws in its hardware compatibility with older versions, the PS/2 series was not a commercial success and signaled IBM’s withdrawal from the PC business."

 

1979 to 1992

Atari computers

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "Atari computers could make music. Even at the time I thought the “tunes” were really annoying, but with just 8 bits it was never going to produce anything spectacular."

 

1980s to today

The first PCs

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "CP/M systems with 8-bit processors had been around for some time before IBM brought out the first PC in 1981. It featured an 8088 16-bit processor and two floppy disk drives. The monitor displayed green characters on a black background; full color cost extra."

 

1968

CDC 3300

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "The 3300 was no longer in use by the time I started at RRZE in the late 1970s. At that time, RRZE had a Cyber 172 that was later upgraded to a Cyber 173. The architecture was still based on 60-bit words. A word could store a floating-point value or, using CDC’s own 6/12 display code, either ten capital letters or five lowercase letters. CDC didn’t yet have bytes or ASCII coding."

 

1973 to 1976

TR445

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "RRZE used a TR440 made by Telefunken that was the only mainframe in the series to be equipped with three processors. In contrast to Cyber, here the operating language was all German, which meant that the TR440 used GIB KOMMANDO to communicate with the terminal. A punched tape was used to boot up the TR440 after it had been completely shut down. The tape was kept in a specific place for emergencies."

 

1941

Zuse Z23

Dr. Rainer Ulrich: "The Z23 was way before my time. For a long time, I didn’t know that Erlangen had such a dinosaur. However, it was never housed at RRZE, but at the mathematics institute on Bismarckstrasse."

The Computer Technology Collection Erlangen

Gerneral contact:

Scientific Collection Director Dr. Guido Nockeman
Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Lehrstuhl für Informatik 3
Martensstraße 3
91058 Erlangen
Germany

Phone +49 9131 85-27006
guido.nockemann@fau.de

 

To schedule an ISER tour, please email iser@fau.de or call the ISER office at +49 9131 85-27617

Guido Nockemann M.A.

Guido Nockemann is in charge of the scientific collection at ISER Erlangen, where he looks after the old computing machines and gives tours of the facility. His mission is to preserve and pass on the knowledge he has been gathering about these machines since he first began experimenting with different kinds of computing devices as a boy.

Contact:

Dr. Guido Nockemann
Computer Technology Collection Erlangen (ISER)
University Erlangen-Nürnberg
Chair of Computer Sience 3
Martensstraße 3
91058 Erlangen

Phone +49-9131 85-27006

Send email

 

Dr.-Ing. Rainer Ulrich

Dr.-Ing. Rainer Ulrich has worked at Fraunhofer IIS for many years, and currently heads the IT Security and Media Technology Group. From 1979 to 1982, he was a research assistant at the Regional Computer Centre Erlangen (RRZE). There he learned all about the hardware and programs, first as an instructor for the Fortran programming course offered at the time, and then as a programmer for the word processing program “TV.” Rainer Ulrich has a personal connection to several exhibits.

Contact:

Dr.-Ing. Rainer Ulrich
Head of IT Security
Fraunhofer Istitute for Integrated Circuits IIS
Am Wolfsmantel 33
91058 Erlangen, Germany

Phone +49 9131 776-2740

Send email

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