Bletchley museum treasures vintage tech

Bletchley museum treasures vintage tech

Summary: ZDNet UK took advantage of a recent visit to Bletchley Park to uncover some of the thousands of items of IT heritage that the National Museum of Computing has in store

TOPICS: After Hours

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  • Eight-inch floppy disk drive

    The National Museum of Computing has many fine examples of historical technology, some of which dot the shelves that line the corridors in Bletchley Park's Block H. On a recent visit, ZDNet UK was unable to resist the chance to take pictures of various iconic storage and communication devices, including some that may be familiar to the more mature viewer.

    8-inch floppy disk drive
    The charmingly mechanical insides of an 8-inch floppy disk drive. Introduced in 1971 by IBM as a read-only disk with 80KB of storage, a disk could hold 1.2MB by the time the technology stopped being developed in 1977. Used on mainframes and minicomputers, the drive format was only occasionally found on desktop systems; its unsuitability for personal computing and word processing led to the ubiquitous 5.25-inch drives that dominated  in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    Photo credit: Rupert Goodwins

  • Acoustic coupler

    Acoustic coupler
    Prior to market liberalisation in the early 1980s, it was illegal to plug unapproved equipment into the phone system — if you could find a plug — and very difficult to get equipment approved in the first place. A common compromise was the acoustic coupler, which played data tones into the microphone and picked them up from the earpiece of a standard telephone handset.

    This was suitable for very slow speeds — 300bps or less — and was also very sensitive to ambient noise, being knocked, poor-quality microphones and many other ills. However, it was very flexible: combined with a Tandy Model 100 portable computer, it could give portable dial-up access from phone boxes, thus creating the very first generation of mobile data access.

    Photo credit: Rupert Goodwins

  • Anamartic wafer memory

    Anamartic wafer memory
    One of the ironies of computer memory is that multiple chips are made on one silicon wafer, expensively cut up and packaged, and then used next to each other in large numbers. Why not wire the chips together on the wafer, linking past ones that don't work, and just use that? That was the thinking by Ivor Catt, a British inventor, who sold his idea to Sinclair Research — thence a company called Anamartic, which got the results into production.

    Unfortunately, by the time the product hit the market in 1989, the cost of individual chips from the Far East was so low that there was no advantage in using what had proved to be a reasonably expensive way of doing things and Anamartic closed three years later.

    Photo credit: Rupert Goodwins

Topic: After Hours

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • Always pleased to see news about Bletchley. I was going to visit (again) this holiday period but the weather was too good!