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UNIVAC's 50th Birthday Today

Jun 14, 2001, 18:57 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Julia Scheeres)

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June 14th is the 50th birthday of UNIVAC, the first commercial computer, predictor of the Eisenhower presidency, and host to the first computer game. It was as big as a one-car garage and cost $1 million.

WIRED has a writeup of the event, including a few performance stats:

" The ancient behemoths were painfully slow, said Russell Atkinson, principal scientist at Palo Alto Research Center.

"On the old computers, the fastest instruction would take 100 microseconds to complete," Atkinson explained. "Today we're talking about small numbers, even less than a nanosecond. Look at the new Pentium 1.7 Gigahertz chip. Every cycle on that machine takes about .6 nanoseconds -- about the time it takes light to travel seven inches."

In contrast, it would have taken the UNIVAC 1 about 100,000 nanoseconds -- or the time light travels 20 miles -- to process the same information, Atkinson said."

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