Home > Hardware > A Complete History of Mainframe Computing A Complete History of Mainframe Computing Submitted by Moulinneuf 2009-06-27 Hardware 13 Comments Tom’s Hardware a takes a long look at the history of mainframe computing. Lots of beautiful photos and history snippets. It obviously starts and ends with IBM. About The Author Thom Holwerda Follow me on Twitter @thomholwerda 13 Comments 2009-06-27 2:06 pm Tuishimi …to think how far computers have come, even in the past 20 years. I started out working on time share mainframes using terminals (and even punch cards in school). Now we carry around freaking phones that are more powerful than some of those old beasts. Crazy. The computer I am using to write this note has more memory, more disk space, more speed than one of the old VAX Clusters I used to manage. Just boggles the mind. Oh, and I might add it did not cost $500,000.00! 2009-06-27 2:08 pm Tuishimi I remember when I got my first uVAX to develop on… I thought WOW! This ROCKS! 16MB RAM, X Windows/Motif, my VAX BASIC,, C, Ada, Pascal and COBOL compilers all loaded up and ready to go, SEDT… Those were the days! 2009-06-27 5:40 pm sergio X/Window, Motif… not so different than a 2009 Linux desktop. 1000 times more resources to do the same thing… slower. xD Software “evolution” floors me. 2009-06-27 7:24 pm Tuishimi LOL! True. Memory is sooooooo cheap now tho’! 2009-06-29 7:04 pm rcsteiner The phone has a faster CPU than the older mainframe, but I’m certain it hasn’t kept pace with modern mainframes in other areas (like data throughput). MIPS ain’t the only measure of raw computing power. 🙂 Mainframe hardware, like all other hardware, has been on a path of almost constant advance since the 1960’s, and current mainframes bear very little resemblance to their ancestors even though they might support the same OSes and/or APIs. Edited 2009-06-29 19:06 UTC 2009-06-27 6:58 pm daveh87333 Its OK but it hardly be described as complete history of mainframes. What about non US mainframes? The VAX 11-780 was a mini computer not a mainframe. 2009-06-28 6:27 am Doc Pain Very nice collection of images (some of them new to me) and descriptive text. Its OK but it hardly be described as complete history of mainframes. What about non US mainframes? Mostly, but that’s where they usually came from. There have been mainframes in the USSR, too, but as far as I see, they weren’t mentioned. The VAX 11-780 was a mini computer not a mainframe. According to terminology, correct. What I am missing – maybe I just didn’t see it, so correct me if you saw it – is an explaination why these kind of computers is called “mainframe”. A “main frame” has been mentioned and explained in a rare book (from 1956, with an original letter from IBM Germany from 1960) I own, it’s about the IBM NORC computer; it’s the translated version of “Faster, Faster” by W. J. Eckert and R. B. Jones. The “main frame” is described as a constructional part of the computer, a frame where the main components are mounted in. After this constructional part, the term “mainframe” has been established. If you’re interested in east german mainframes, feel free to have a look at the pictures: http://www.robotrontechnik.de/index.htm?/html/computer/grossrechner… (with several links, especially look at the ESER mainframes) http://museum.urz.uni-halle.de/r300/index.html http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/R300_(GroÃŸrechner) http://www.urz.uni-halle.de/urz-geschichte/robotron_300/ It’s worthe mentioning that IBM engineers visited the GDR’s computer manufacturers in order to get new ideas for their system – it’s not that we did steal everything without contributing back. 🙂 by the way, there are interesting documentations and (sadly low quality) film material about IBM mainframe computing on YT, such as about the famous “Stretch” and its terminal breath. And finally… why wasn’t the IBM AS/400 mentioned? Ranging from “minitower size” to “roomfilling cupboard size”, these computers could as well be considered mainframes. Well, the eServer, the successor of AS/400 and iSeries, has been mentioned. 2009-06-30 3:49 pm biffuz Yes, it should be titled “A Complete History of American Mainframes”. It completely ignores Japan, Europe, Soviet Union… My personal favorite is the Olivetti ELEA 9003: introduced in 1957, it was the first computer to use exclusively transistors instead of vacuum tubes. 2009-06-27 7:50 pm vivainio Loved the pictures, very “science fiction” feel about them. The guy vaxes completely lyrical in the end: Mainframes arguably express man’s highest achievement, not only in the amazing amount of thought and intelligence invested in them, but also in the sublime role they have had, and still have, on human life, and the endeavors of our kind. Perhaps rather than dinosaurs, they are like something even older. Like diamonds, they are a combination of many ordinary parts, that when combined in a certain way, through nature or extraordinary thought, become something far greater than the sum of ordinary. 2009-06-28 8:48 pm papertape The Harvard Mark I may have been a technological dead end, but it did contribute to software Grace Hopper’s “subroutine” (or maybe it was the Mark II). Later she went on to write the first compiler, for Univac, pre Cobol. Why a major language hasn’t been named after her, I don’t know, especially with such a good name as “Grace”. Oh well, at least she got the punched card “Hopper” 2009-06-28 9:54 pm tylerdurden If she had trademarked the term “bug” she would have been the wealthiest person in the world, for sure. 😉 2009-06-29 6:36 am Doc Pain If she had trademarked the term “bug” she would have been the wealthiest person in the world, for sure. 😉 Would have paid in 1945 already. 🙂 http://www.avalon-us.com/web_images/h96566k.jpg 2009-06-28 9:34 pm tylerdurden … it read like an IBM PR release. Amdahl, Hitachi… hello?