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1940s pioneering computer will need some modifications

Vintage EDSAC computer to be rebuilt at Bletchley

Bletchley Park will rebuild one of the world’s first computers, the 1940s-era Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator or EDSAC.

EDSAC amounted to a room-sized computer built at the University of Cambridge and first being switched on in 1949. The Computer Conservation Society will take three years to create a copy of EDSAC and the build will go ahead in full sight of visitors to the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley.

Designed and built by Sir Maurice Wilkes, EDSAC was designed to tackle hefty calculations involved in several areas of scientific endeavor including genetics and meteorology research. The vintage computer was utilised by John Kendrew and Max Perutz who went on to win the Nobel Prize for chemistry.

The Computer Conservation Society have allocated a budget of £250,000 to build a new EDSAC but putting the machine together will not be all smooth sailing as few original parts remain. 

""We’re building up a good picture of what it was like," he said. "But there comes a point at which we have to guess what was in the designer’s mind at the time," CCS chairman Dr David Harley told the BBC.

One of the original design features which will not be reproduced of the original 650 instruction-per-second machine is that of 1.5m long tubes of mercury used as storage. Experiments were already underway to find an alternative for the toxic heavy metal.

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