The First Mainframes
The NEAC 2203, an early transistorized computer, was multi-lingual in several respects: both fixed-point and floating point; and both Roman and Japanese characters. It managed Japan's first on-line, real-time reservation system for Kinki Nippon Railways in 1960.
The First Mainframes
Big businesses with big needs required big computers. Economies of scale also favored large, consolidated computer systems.
This demand for big computers, just when “second generation” transistor-based computers were replacing vacuum-tube machines in the late 1950s, spurred developments in hardware and software. Manufacturers commonly built small numbers of each model, targeting narrowly defined markets.
Why are they called “Mainframes”?
Nobody knows for sure. There was no mainframe “inventor” who coined the term.
Probably “main frame” originally referred to the frames (designed for telephone switches) holding processor circuits and main memory, separate from racks or cabinets holding other components. Over time, main frame became mainframe and came to mean “big computer.”
New Machines, New Techniques
One key formula didn’t need a computer: More hardware meant more dollars. So computer designers explored ways to increase capabilities without adding to the cost.
Various innovations let computers grow more powerful without growing proportionally bigger. Virtual memory used relatively inexpensive system storage to replicate costlier main memory. Microprogramming employed software with simple hardware to execute commands that otherwise needed complex hardware.
Other techniques included pipelining, overlapping the execution of instructions that required several processing cycles, and spooling, moving data to temporary storage for use by another program.
The Atlas computers were the world’s most powerful in their day and Chilton had the biggest of the three built. Atlas pioneered virtual memory, timesharing, pipelining and many other concepts adopted later by other systems.View Artifact Detail
Engineers test a small part of the arithmetic unit of the ORACLE computer. Hand built in standard racks, ORACLE was the world’s fastest computer in 1953. The complete machine filled several rooms.View Artifact Detail
Trailblazing computer designer Tom Kilburn is on hand at the shutdown of the University of Manchester Atlas in 1971.View Artifact Detail
Philco began in 1906 making electric car batteries as the “Philadelphia Storage Battery Company." Its Transac was among the earliest transistorized computers, but the company’s computer division did not survive. Ford bought Philco in 1961.View Artifact Detail