Rebooting a dinosaur

SBS reports that “The world’s oldest computer has been rebooted by two dedicated engineers who have spent nine years bringing it back to life.”

Roger Holmes and Rod Brown, working in a barn in Ashford, Kent, have returned the ICT1301 computer, known as Flossie, to full working order. The machine, which measures six metres by 6.7 metres (20 feet by 22 feet), and cost £250,000 in 1962, was originally bought by London University to organise exam grades and print certificates. Flossie was delivered to the University on 19 September 1962, so she has just celebrated her 50th birthday.

Working on the ICT1301
Working on the ICT1301 in Kent

The computer’s memory alone weighs half a tonne… all 12 kilobytes of it! Yes, that’s 12kb; there are 1024kb in a megabyte, and a modern smartphone can have 8192 megabytes (8 gigabytes), which makes Flossie’s memory seem rather inadequate :).

Roger Holmes at the ICT1301 console
Roger Holmes at the ICT1301 console

The front panel of an ICT1301 was used in The Man with the Golden Gun as well as Doctor Who and Blake’s 7.

It’s interesting to note that there’s an unrestored ICT1301 at Otago Settlers’ Museum in Dunedin, New Zealand.

The Computer Conservation Society (of which Holmes is a member) visited the restoration project and has a report, complete with photos.

The project has its own website, which includes the history of the machine, reports of public open days, photos and a video, and other information. It also includes a report of a visit by the original designer. (The site—appropriately enough, I guess—features a binary clock. Let me know if you can read it!)