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Chapter IV: Meetings with Computer Manufacturers

144. Meetings were held on 27th and 28th April, 1965, with the three principal British computer manufacturers and with two representative American manufacturers. These meetings were arranged by the Ministry of Technology. In order to check costs and availability within the period of interest, manufacturers were asked for budgetary prices and delivery periods for supplying up to 10 medium-sized and 20 small-sized computer systems having the specifications given in the Annex to this chapter. They were asked also to describe any plan they had for manufacturing a very large computer within the next five years. Two of them also volunteered information about very small machines.

145. Manufacturers quoted detailed delivery dates and informal budgetary prices (in many cases allowing substantial discounts for bulk purchasing). We believe the dates and prices to be realistic, and have used them as a basis for our suggested assignments of computers to users, and for our estimated overall costs of the programme.

146. The results of these discussions are not quoted at length here, for reasons of commercial confidence. The meetings were informal and the discussions were informative and realistic. The following features are significant:

  1. All companies expressed their interest in supplying machines to meet medium and small specifications of Annex 1.
  2. No British manufacturer will have available in the near future a large computer comparable with say CDC 6800 or IBM 360/92.
  3. The upgrading to present U.K.A.E.A. specification of the eight KDF 9 computers now installed in the Universities and the supply of additional KDF 9 computers were discussed. It appeared that a reasonable timetable could be met for upgrading these as a single venture.
  4. A company expressed particular interest in the possibility of cooperating with Edinburgh University and the nearby Research Council laboratories in the development of a multiple-access conversational system.
  5. The upgrading of University Elliott 803 computers to the more powerful Elliott 503, and the supply of up to eight additional 503's were also discussed, and are also clearly possible.

Annex to Chapter IV

147. The Small and Medium Specifications sent to the Manufacturers.

Minimum Requirements for Medium Size Configurations

  1. A directly addressable memory with a cycle time not more than about 2 µS, capacity of the equivalent of 32K words of 36 bits. Hardware memory protection is essential and the relocation of programs is desirable.
  2. CPU permitting hardware floating point operations (double precision if word length is less than 36 bits). Boolean and shifting functions.
  3. Backing storage-to be drum(s) or disc with a total capacity of at least 100 K words having an average access time not greater than 20 MS. If core backing storage is available, details to be quoted.
  4. Facilities for connecting a magnetic card file are desirable.
  5. Magnetic tape. At least six magnetic tape units at 90 kc transfer rate and two IBM compatible units (7 track, 200 and 556 bpi).
  6. Card equipment. 80 column Hollerith/IBM with facility to read column binary. Card reader minimum speed 600 cpm. Card punch minimum speed 100 cpm.
  7. Printer to have full character set and 120 characters per line, minimum speed 800 lpm.
  8. Paper tape. Facilities for the connexion of a paper tape reader minimum speed 600 ch/sec. reading 5, 7 or 8-hole tape and tape punch at 30 ch/sec. minimum.
  9. Facilities for buffered direct data connexions via the manufacturers standard interface to special devices to be operated in real-time mode.
  10. Facilities for the attachment of graph plotters, CRO display units.
  11. The manufacturers may consider that a small satellite computer will be desirable to deal with input and output of data.
  12. Facilities for extending the system.
  1. An assembly language.
  2. An efficient compiler for Fortran 2 or 4-efficiency comparable with Stretch S2 compiler. Compiler to be card oriented and able to accept sub-routines in assembly language.
  3. Adequate provision of diagnostic aids for engineers, operators and programmers.
  4. Supervisor to provide for batch programs and multi program operations and with continuing system maintenance.

Minimum Requirements for Small Configurations

  1. A core memory with a cycle time of not more than about 6 µS and capacity the equivalent of 16K or 36 bit words.
  2. CPU permitting hardware floating point.
  3. Manufacturers to quote facilities for adding backing stores.
  4. Four magnetic tape units having transfer rates not less than about 60 kc and one IBM compatible unit (7 track 200 and 556 bpi).
  5. Card equipment. 80 column Hollerith/IBM with facility to read column binary.
    Card reader minimum speed 300 cpm.
    Card punch minimum speed 100 cpm.
  6. Printers having full character set and 120 characters per line minimum speed 300 lpm.
  7. Paper tape facilities for connexion of paper tape reader at minimum speed 600 characters per second reading 5, 7 or 8 holes and tape punch at 30 ch/sec. minimum.
  8. Extensibility of the system.
  1. An assembly language.
  2. An efficient compiler for Fortran 2 or 4.
  3. A monitor program including batch processing.