Here’s a movie for all fans of vintage technology… yes, it was 50 years ago today (well 7th December 1962 actually) that the UK’s first supercomputer – the Ferranti Atlas went live.
There are some great insights into the computer industry of those days. The Atlas was so powerful that it effectively doubled the UK’s total computing in one day – and it was thought there’d only ever be need for one of these machines whereas, as one of the interviewees in the clip says, “Now, your washing machine has a more powerful computer in it than Atlas did!”
Despite the fact each Atlas (a total of three were built) sold to £2.5 million (in 1962 prices) and processing time was sold at £750-£800 an hour, staff would go to the pub to celebrate if it ran for 10 minutes without breaking down. They also had an odd approach to clean-rooms in those days – the factory used to manufacture Atlas was originally used to build railway engines and as a result the components would often arrive thickly coated with soot. The last Atlas was decomissioned in 1976.