04 October 2010


 

Celebrating 50 years of computing at RMIT

Knowing how to wield a rubber mallet with precision was an essential skill for the maintenance crew responsible for the NCR-Elliott 803B, RMIT University's first computer.

"The Elliott 803 was one of the most sophisticated second generation machines of the time and it was a fairly reliable computer," Alan Leary, Senior Associate in the School of Computer Science and Information Technology, recalls.

"One of the jobs on the weekly maintenance schedule was giving the back edge of the removable circuit boards a bang with a rubber mallet to make sure all 60 pins were making good contact."

Computing at RMIT has come a long way since September 1960, when an interdepartmental committee officially recommended the purchase of a digital computer for teaching and administration purposes, suggesting £16,000 be set aside for the investment.

Over the next two years the committee investigated suitable machines and associated costs, and by late 1962 the RMIT Council was convinced to buy a computer from the English manufacturer Elliott Brothers (London) Ltd.

"The NCR-Elliott 803B was a serial binary machine with a ferrite core memory of 8,192 words, each of 40 bits (39 plus parity)," Mr Leary said.

"It had a mean speed of 1,500 operations per second and had an automatic floating-point unit with 30 bit accuracy. Standard input/output was via 8 channel paper tape in conjunction with Friden Flexowriters."

Three magnetic film drives (35mm sprocket film with 262K words per reel) and a punched card reader were also part of the purchase.

The total cost was £105,000 - equivalent to about $15 million today - and the machine was officially commissioned on 25 March, 1963, by the Premier of Victoria, Henry Bolte.

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