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.
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.
The IBM Model M was a keyboard was first released in 1985 as a cheaper successor to the Model F. It's hard to imagine a keyboard more expensive as Model M keyboards cost a bomb even in those days but it's true.
The Model F was based on a very durable capacitive buckling spring but was expensive to produce hence IBM made the Model M with a lower-cost membrane buckling spring model. At the same time, the Model M pioneered the ANSI 101-key layout that is still in use today. This keyboard was also the first one to utilise the PS/2 connector which would go on to be in service for decades.
At a small event in San Francisco last night, IBM hosted two debate club-style discussions between two humans and an AI called "Project Debater". The goal was for the AI to engage in a series of reasoned arguments according to some pretty standard rules of debate: no awareness of the debate topic ahead of time, no pre-canned responses. Each side gave a four-minute introductory speech, a four-minute rebuttal to the other's arguments, and a two-minute closing statement.
I'd pay so much money to see prominent political leaders debate this machine.
We often see people funneling their passion into keeping beloved devices in operation long past their manufacturer’s intent. These replacement Thinkpad motherboards bring old (yet beloved) Thinkpads a much desired processor upgrade. This is the work of the user on the enthusiast forum 51nb. The hack exemplifies what happens when that passion for legendary gear hits deep electrical expertise and available manufacturing. This isn’t your regular laptop refurbishment, is building something new.
This is incredible. I wish someone could do this with an iBook G4 or a 12.1" PowerBook.
IBM's vacuum tube computers of the 1950s were built from pluggable modules, each holding eight tubes and the associated components. I recently came across one of these modules so I studied its circuitry. This particular module implements five contact debouncing circuits, used to clean up input from a key or relay. When you press a key, the metal contacts tend to bounce a bit before closing, so you end up with multiple open/closed signals, rather than a nice, clean signal. The signal needs to be "debounced" to remove the extra transitions before being processed by a computer.
This is so far before my time, it basically looks like 19th century machinery to me. The steps between this module and what we have today blow my mind.
From the comments on the previous story:
Connor Krukosky is an 18-year-old college student with a hobby of collecting vintage computers. One day, he decided to buy his own mainframe... An IBM z890. This is his story.
Grab a warm drink, and enjoy. This is great.
I recently came across a challenge to print a holiday greeting card on a vintage computer, so I decided to make a card on a 1960s IBM 1401 mainframe. The IBM 1401 computer was a low-end business mainframe announced in 1959, and went on to become the most popular computer of the mid-1960s, with more than 10,000 systems in use. The 1401's rental price started at $2500 a month (about $20,000 in current dollars), a low price that made it possible for even a medium-sized business to have a computer for payroll, accounting, inventory, and many other tasks. Although the 1401 was an early all-transistorized computer, these weren't silicon transistors - the 1401 used germanium transistors, the technology before silicon. It used magnetic core memory for storage, holding 16,000 characters.
Some people have access to the coolest stuff.
The Blue Lightning CPU is an interesting beast. There is not a whole lot of information about what the processor really is, but it can be pieced together from various scraps of information. Around 1990, IBM needed low-power 32-bit processors with good performance for its portable systems, but no one offered such CPUs yet. IBM licensed the 386SX core from Intel and turned it into the IBM 386SLC processor (SLC reportedly stood for "Super Little Chip").
Fascinating footnote in processor history.
Since I abused the first part in Ars' two-parter on the history of the IBM PC for my own selfish purposes, it's only fair to use the publication of part two to actually talk about the subject matter at hand.
In November 1979, Microsoft's frequent partner Seattle Computer Products released a standalone Intel 8086 motherboard for hardcore hobbyists and computer manufacturers looking to experiment with this new and very powerful CPU. The 8086 was closely related to the 8088 that IBM chose for the PC; the latter was a cost-reduced version of the former, an 8-bit/16-bit hybrid chip rather than a pure 16-bit like the 8086.
IBM opted for the less powerful 8088 partly to control costs, but also to allow the use of certain hardware that required the 8-bit external data bus found on the 8088. But perhaps the biggest consideration stemmed, as happens so often, from the marketing department rather than engineering. The 8086 was such a powerful chip that an IBM PC so equipped might convince some customers to choose it in lieu of IBM's own larger systems; IBM wanted to take business from other PC manufacturers, not from their own other divisions.
The IBM PC and its compatibles changed the computing landscape more than any other platform, and to this day it remains the archetype of what people think of when they think of "computer". While the archetypal computer is surely changing into a laptop or even a smartphone, they've got a long way to go before they push the PC out of the collective consciousness as the "default" computer.