Britain’s oldest working computer, rebooted


Britain’s oldest working computer, rebooted

computer_article

The Harwell WITCH is a relay-based machine that used 900 Dekatron gas-filled tubes, each of which could hold a single digit in memory. It has paper tape for both data input and program storage. The computer was used in the design of Britain’s first nuclear reactors. (Read more about the computers used at Harwell in the 1940s and 1950s.)

“Its promises for reliability over speed were certainly met – it was definitely the tortoise in the tortoise and the hare fable,” says Kevin Murrell, a director and trustee of the National Museum of Computing. “In a race with a human mathematician using a mechanical calculator, the human kept pace for 30 minutes, but then had to retire exhausted as the machine carried on remorselessly. The machine once ran for ten days unattended over a Christmas and New Year holiday period.”

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