The outer limits of vintage tech uncovered

The outer limits of vintage tech uncovered

Summary: The return of the Amiga and a rare sighting of an Acorn laptop are here in a look at the more unusual tech at the UK's first Vintage Computer Festival

TOPICS: After Hours

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  • On 17 June, 2,000 fans of old technology descended on the Bletchley Park for the UK's first Vintage Computer Festival. The event showed that Bletchley still has many secrets — and so do its visitors.

    This peculiar device tells the time through a mixture of cogs, wheels and 1940s telephone exchange switches called uniselectors. Although made to a very high standard, it contains no makers marks or identification and appears to be unique: nothing like it is known. The owner, Michael Saunby, has documented it in great detail, and is very keen to find out more.

  • It wasn't just the exhibits and the presence of legacy journalists that made the Vintage Computer Festival reminiscent of the 1980s micro scene. A new Amiga — the X1000 — got launched.

    Well, not really launched: it had been announced earlier in the year. Little details like the manufacturer of the PowerPC CPU, the price, performance and availability are still secret. However, it will have an 500 MHz XMOS co-processor — the reconfigurable hardware technology created by ex-Inmos designers — and run AmigaOS 4.

    Why an XMOS co-processor? Why not, is the answer: it really is the '80s all over again. No final cases either, but here's a shot of the circuit board.

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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  • There was a machine far more complicated than that at British Leyland, Longbridge, Birmingham, England It was the so-called Data Sender and who ever had built it must have been a genius on uni-selectors, teleprinter code and teleprinters. Cold valves were used to generate teleprinter letter codes A, B, C and so on. There was a button panel in the assembly line office and the buttons could invoke pre-set words such as "Highline", "Lowline", "Austin", "Rover", "Morris" and so on. The relays would click, the uni-selectors would whir and the teleprinter, which was in a heavy armoured case, would produce the build labels on the assembly line. (the printer had to be protected from vandalism because some workers didn't like the job cards it produced!) As far as I know each word was made by wiring up individual letters to a uniselector and as it stepped around the words were printed out. Uniselectors used to have 36 positions I think so this was ample for normal length words. The machine would have dated from the 1950s I expect and it was rather troublesome chiefly because the operator would sometimes manage to get an illegal number of buttons engaged at once. Sometimes when a brand was discontinued the operator would tear-off the button and put tape over the hole. This was a Very Bad Idea.