The world’s oldest working digital computer, often referred to as “The Witch”, has been given a new lease of life. A team of computer scientists has restored it to its former glory—and now it’s on display for all to see.
The computer was originally designed and developed all the way back in 1949 at the UK’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell in Oxfordshire. Weighing in at 2.5 tonnes, the behemoth was designed to crunch calculations for nuclear scientists, so they didn’t have to use mechanical adding machines.
Found in a dusty store room over 20 years ago, researchers have since been restoring the historical piece of kit to a working condition. The computer uses valves as its memory store and despite being slow—it can take up to 10 seconds to multiply two numbers—it regularly cranked out up to 80 hours of service in a typical week.
By 1957 it was replaced by faster alternatives, but it continued to be used as a teaching resource. In fact, that’s where it picked up its jokey name: when it was loaned to a different educational establishment, it became known as the Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell: WITCH.
The computer will be on show at The National Museum of Computing in Buckinghamshire, UK. [BBC]
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