How do you boot a computer from punch cards when the computer has no operating system and no ROM? To make things worse, this computer requires special metadata called “word marks” that can’t be represented on a card. In this blog post, I describe the interesting hardware and software techniques used in the vintage IBM 1401 computer to load software from a deck of punch cards. (Among other things, half of each card contains loader code that runs as each card is read.) I go through some IBM 1401 machine code in detail, which illustrates the strangeness of the 1401’s architecture and instruction set compared to a modern machine. I simply cannot imagine what wizardry these newfangled computers must’ve felt like to the people of the ’50s, when computers first started to truly cement themselves in the public consciousness. Even though they’ve been around for twice as long, I find a world without cars far, far easier to imagine and grasp than a world without computers.
This webpage describes the MIOS Project. MIOS is a chip-for-chip replacement of the BIOS (Basic Input Output System) on the IBM 5150 Personal Computer. On the IBM PC the BIOS is contained in a ROM IC Chip located on the motherboard at socket location U33. The IC is socketed and can be replaced with a custom ROM containing custom code. The purpose of this project is to explore controlling the IBM PC hardware in non-standard ways. The purpose is not to replace the BIOS with another BIOS that does exactly the same thing! We are going to describe how MIOS works by describing the path we took for development. Amazingly cool project. I’m not entirely sure for how long it’s been around, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome.
International Business Machines Corp is splitting itself into two public companies, capping a years-long effort by the world’s first big computing firm to diversify away from its legacy businesses to focus on high-margin cloud computing. IBM will list its IT infrastructure services unit, which provides technical support for 4,600 clients in 115 countries and has a backlog of $60 billion, as a separate company with a new name by the end of 2021. The new company will have 90,000 employees and its leadership structure will be decided in a few months, Chief Financial Officer James Kavanaugh told Reuters. I have no idea what to say about this. IBM is so far out of my comfort zone these days.
For a lot of organizations that buy servers and create systems out of them, the overall throughput of each single machine is the most important performance metric they care about. But for a lot of IBM i shops and indeed even System z mainframe shops, the performance of a single core is the most important metric because most IBM i customers do not have very many cores at all. Some have only one, others have two, three, or four, and most do not have more than that although there are some very large Power Systems running IBM i. But that is on the order of thousands of customers against a base of 120,000 unique customers. We are, therefore, particularly interested in how the performance of the future Power10 processors will stack up against the prior generations of Power processors at the single core level. It is hard to figure this out with any precision, but in its presentation in August at the Hot Chips conference, Big Blue gave us some clues that help us make a pretty good estimate of where the Power10 socket performance will be and we can work backwards from there to get a sense of where the Power10 cores could end up in terms of the Commercial Performance Workload (CPW) benchmark ratings that IBM uses to gauge the relative performance of IBM i systems. ARM, RISC-V, POWERx – there’s definitely renewed interest in non-x86 architectures, and that makes me very, very happy.
The A2O core is an out-of-order, multi-threaded, 64-bit POWER ISA core that was developed as a processor for customization and embedded use in system-on-chip (SoC) devices. It’s most suitable for single thread performance optimization. A follow-up to its parent high-streaming throughput A2I predecessor, it maintains the same modular design approach and fabric structure. The Auxiliary Execution Unit (AXU) is tightly-coupled to the core, enabling many possibilities for special-purpose designs for new markets tackling the challenges of modern workloads. Intel’s current troubles and the rise in popularity of alternatives is creating a very rare and ever so small opportunity for smaller ISAs to gain some traction. I’ll take what I can get in our current stratified technology market.
IBM named Arvind Krishna as chief executive officer, replacing longtime CEO Virginia Rometty. Krishna is currently the head of IBM’s cloud and cognitive software unit and was a principal architect of the company’s purchase of Red Hat, which was completed last year. Rometty, 62, will continue as executive chairman and serve through the end of the year, when she will retire after almost 40 years with the company, IBM said in a statement Thursday. Good luck to the man, I guess. IBM isn’t exactly the most exciting company in the world.
The vast majority of PC users today have no memory of what PC keyboards looked like before the standard 101/102-key layout arrived, even though various OEMs do their best to mangle the standard layout in order to minimize usability, especially on laptops. OEM-specific modifications aside, the basic layout of the main block of alphanumeric keys has not changed in over 30 years, since 1986. However, up until that point the PC keyboard layout and the keyboard hardware changed quite a bit, and looking at the 1981-1986 IBM Technical References is key to understanding a) why the standard keyboard scan codes are so complex, and b) why there are so many seemingly odd vendor-specific modifications of the standard layout. With our modern operating systems and crazy fast processors, it’s easy to forget that the PC as a platform is almost 40 years old, and many of the PC standards we don’t even think of as standards have roots that date back that far – and the keyboard is no exception.
John Stanley Ford, my father, was the first black software engineer in America, hired by IBM in 1946. Passed over for promotions, discriminated against in pay, with many inside IBM working to ensure his failure, he still viewed his job as an opportunity of a lifetime. He refused to give up. Minority underrepresentation in high tech has been present since the earliest days of the industry. In reflecting upon my father’s career for a new memoir I wrote about him, I saw important lessons about the history and nature of racism in high tech, and about the steps that corporations and individuals can take to bring about much-needed change. An important and fascinating story – especially since it involves IBM, a company with a long and deep roots in racism, eugenics, and genocide.
On Thursday IBM unveiled their new mainframe, the z15. Overall, the z15 represents an evolutionary change over its predecessor, the z14. However, there are plenty of enhancements across the board. This goes way over my head, but it’s still immensely cool.
It has been a long time coming, and it might have been better if this had been done a decade ago. But with a big injection of open source spirit from its acquisition of Red Hat, IBM is finally taking the next step and open sourcing the instruction set architecture of its Power family of processors. Opening up architectures that have fallen out of favour seems to be all the rage these days. Good news, of course, but a tad late.
The few times I’ve had the lid off of my 5100 have all been anxious moments, as I have no idea where I’d find replacements for any of the ICs or SLT modules inside the machine. I resolved early on that my recovery of the 5100’s non-executable ROS – the ROS that contains the programming for the 5100’s BASIC and APL interpreters – would be as minimally-invasive as possible. In accomplishing this recovery I may have used more compute than all the IBM 5100s ever built have carried out over the past 44 years.
In late April of 2019 Adam Bradley and Chris Blackburn were sitting in a pub on a Monday night when Chris happened across a somewhat unusual eBay listing for an IBM 360 Model 20. This eBay listing was unusual mainly because it didn’t actually list the computer as an IBM 360, but rather as an “seltene Anlage “Puma Computer IBM 2020” which roughly translates from German into “rare plant “Puma Computer IBM 2020”. Amazing story.
The IBM System/360 was a groundbreaking family of mainframe computers announced on April 7, 1964. Designing the System/360 was an extremely risky “bet-the-company” project for IBM, costing over $5 billion. Although the project ran into severe problems, especially with the software, it was a huge success, one of the top three business accomplishments of all time. System/360 set the direction of the computer industry for decades and popularized features such as the byte, 32-bit words, microcode, and standardized interfaces. The S/360 architecture was so successful that it is still supported by IBM’s latest z/Architecture mainframes, 55 years later. Although the S/360 models shared a common architecture, internally they were completely different to support the wide range of cost and performance levels. Low-end models used simple hardware and an 8-bit datapath while advanced models used features such as wide datapaths, fast semiconductor registers, out-of-order instruction execution, and caches. These differences were reflected in the distinctive front panels of these computers, covered with lights and switches. This article describes the various S/360 models and how to identify them from the front panels. I’ll start with the Model 30, a popular low-end system, and then go through the remaining models in order. Conveniently IBM assigned model numbers rationally, with the size and performance increasing with the model number, from the stripped-down but popular Model 20 to the high-performance Model 195. This is an incredibly detailed article on this – relatively speaking – arcane topic, filled with beautiful photography. A delight to read.
Use elementary image processing and machine learning techniques to decode images of a computer screen showing hexadecimal digits. The data in these images are ROM contents from an interesting old computer. The IBM 5100 is an early personal computer (ostensibly portable at 24 kg). Depending on customer-selected options, a 5100 could have interactive programming environments for APL and BASIC built into its ROM. Or, if you prefer, its ROS (“read-only storage”), which seems to have been the IBM-favoured term. The youngest 5100s are a bit over 40 at time of writing, and some accounts online suggest that the ROS devices are no longer dependable. This notebook is part of an effort to back up the entire IBM 5100 ROS to modern media. Specifically, this notebook contains code that analyses screenshots (that is, photographs taken with a camera) containing 512-byte portions of the “Executable ROS”—the ROS containing the native PALM code. That sure is one way to perform computer archeology and keep an old technology alive for posterity.
In the early 1990s, we had no idea where the computer industry was going, what the next generation would look like, or even what the driving factor would be. All the developers back then knew is that the operating systems available in server rooms or on desktop computers simply weren’t good enough, and that the next generation needed to be better—a lot better. This was easier said than done, but this problem for some reason seemed to rack the brains of one company more than any other: IBM. Throughout the decade, the company was associated with more overwrought thinking about operating systems than any other, with little to show for it in the end. The problem? It might have gotten caught up in kernel madness. Today’s Tedium explains IBM’s odd operating system fixation, and the belly flops it created. I personally really loved using OS/2 over the past ten years or so. There’s something quite elegant and appealing about the operating system, and I consider it the best way to run Windows 3.x software there is – it’s entirely built-in. The world would’ve been a very different place had IBM managed to take the operating system crown for the PC industry – or the Mac, for that matter, through Talingent.
Recently I’ve gotten a hold of an old IBM mid-range computer, an AS/400 150. This is an 1997 server very much aimed at businesses, pay-rolling, inventory management and such. It can be used as a multi user system, with users logging in via a terminal. The operating system it runs is OS/400 and that is also the only OS it can run, no Linux available for this system. Of course it comes with all the fun programming languages like COBOL and RPG, all the business classics. It’s compatible with the IBM system/36, so any programs made for an 80’s S/36 machine run without problems on the AS/400 machines. It also looks very much 90s, though I personally like the cover at the back, hiding all ports. Stories like these are always great reads. This is the kind of hardware I eventually want to collect and play around with once I have the space to do so.
Archaic to most people, IBM mainframes play a pivotal role in our everyday life. Behind the scenes, these state-of-the-art machines process billions of transactions every day. Announced in July of last year, IBM's latest mainframe is the z14, succeeding the z13 which launched back in 2015.
Earlier this year at the 65th International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco IBM presented some of the architectural changes between the z13 and z14. The paper was presented by Christopher Berry, a Senior Technical Staff Member for the IBM Systems Hardware Development Team. Mr. Berry led the z14 physical design execution.
So I learned something new today. Back in the early and mid-90s, IBM tried to build a PC-like platform and ecosystem around its PowerPC processor. They called it the PowerPC Reference Platform, or PReP, and with it, you could build what were effectively PC clones with PowerPC processors, ready to run a number of operating systems, including AIX, Windows NT, OS/2, and Apple's failed Taligent project. None of this is news to me.
What is news to me, however, is that aside from a number of desktop PReP machines, IBM also developed and sold a number of PReP laptops under the ThinkPad brand.
Sometime in 1994, IBM started working on a prototype mobile system named Woodfield and designated as type 6020. Very little is known about this system; it was never officially announced or sold. On June 19, 1995, IBM announced the ThinkPad 850 and 820 (announcement letters 195-178 and 195-179, respectively) with a planned availability date of July 24, 1995. The ThinkPad 820 designation was type 6040, code name Wiltwick; the 850 was type 6042, code name Woodfield Prime.
The ThinkPads 820/850 were to be available with no software or with preloaded Windows NT 3.51 or AIX 4.1.3. OS/2 was to come at some unspecified later date, and Solaris 2.5.1 support was announced in February 1996.
The ThinkPad 850 type 6042 came with 16 or 32 MB RAM, 540 or 810 MB hard disk, and 640Ã—480 or 800Ã—600 TFT display.
Definitely an interesting bit of computing history, and I'd love to get my hands on a working model - they pop up on eBay from time to time.
A mysterious full-length sound card
recently arrived at the OS/2 Museum. It was clearly manufactured by IBM in 1985, and sports a 20 MHz Texas Instrument TMS32010 DSP (the DSP is the large black DIP chip near the lower left corner, not the ceramic gold cap chip).
I love a good hardware mystery.
The PC-RETRO Kit Beta (Catalog #PC-RETRO) is a hobby electronics kit for building a faithful reproduction of the classic IBM PC 5150 motherboard from 1982. We have been in development on this new product offering for over 1 year. We started with the original circuit diagrams, as published by IBM in their Technical Reference Manual. These open source circuit diagrams launched the explosion in PC clone products that followed the IBM PC introduction. Reverse engineering the original IBM board was a substantial undertaking, as we found many differences between the 'official' circuit diagrams and actual board construction. Additionally, you can imagine the complexity of trouble-shooting this board and verifying the correct operation! Not to mention the logistical challenge of sourcing the original vintage electronic parts. You will receive all the components to build a PC Motherboard exactly as shown here.
At a mere $189.50 (including international shipping; $149.50 for domestic US customers), this is an absolute steal. I'm very tempted to look into getting this, but my utter lack of even the most basic soldering skills makes me a little nervous. Might be a better idea to get some soldering test kits before attempting a project like this.