“Big Iron”

Big Iron Exhibit, New Computer Museum v. 1.5

Big Iron Exhibit, New Computer Museum v. 1.5

Mainframe computers (colloquially referred to as “big iron”) tend to be used by large organizations for critical applications such as statistical data analysis and transaction processing. Several manufacturers produced mainframe computers from the late 1950s through the 1970s, and they were generally known as “IBM and the Seven Dwarfs. According the the History of Computing Project, mainframe computers have from 1 to 16 CPU’s (although modern machines have more), memory ranges from 128 Mb to over 8 Gigabyte on line RAM, processing power ranges from 80 over 550 Mips, and they often have different cabinets for Storage, I/O and RAM. — The History of Computing Project


Big Iron: The Mainframe Story

Related sites
Mainframe Computers (Computer History Museum)

IBM System/360 (1964)


IBM System 360 Mainframe Computer History Archives 1964 SLT

Bob Evans The IBM System/360 November 20, 1983

Related sites
IBM System/360 (Engineering and Technology History Wiki)
IBM System/360 Model 30 computer (Computer History Museum)

… and the “Seven Dwarfs”


Related sites
Burroughs Corporation Archive (Charles Babbage Institute, U. of Minnesota)
IBM and the Seven Dwarfs — Dwarf One: Burroughs (John C Dvorak)
Burroughs Corporation (Wikipedia)


Related sites
IBM and the Seven Dwarfs — Dwarf Two: Sperry-Rand (John C Dvorak)
UNIVAC (Wikipedia)
Sperry Corporation, Sperry Rand (Wikipedia)

Control Data

Related sites
Charles Babbage Institute (CBI)
The Charles Babbage Institute is an archives and research center dedicated to preserving the history of information technology and promoting and conducting research in the field. CBI is located in Elmer L. Andersen Library, a state-of-the-art facility designed for Archives and Special Collections. Primary support for CBI is provided by the University of Minnesota, through the College of Science & Engineering and the University Libraries. Additional support is provided by corporate donors and individuals through the Friends of CBI.
Control Data Photographs (Charles Babbage Institute, U. of Minnesota)
IBM and the Seven Dwarfs — Dwarf Three: Control-Data (John C Dvorak)
Control Data Corporation (Wikipedia)


Related sites
Whatever Happened to IBM and the Seven Dwarfs? Dwarf Four: Honeywell
Honeywell, Computing (Wikipedia)

General Electric (GE)

Related sites
Whatever Happened to the Seven Dwarfs Dwarf Five: General Electric (John C Dvorak)
General Electric, Computing (Wikipedia)


Related sites
IBM and the Seven Dwarfs — Dwarf Six: RCA (John C Dvorak)
RCA Corporation (Wikipedia)


NCR Began as the National Cash Register Company of Dayton Ohio

Related sites
Whatever Happened to IBM and the Seven Dwarfs? Dwarf Seven: NCR– The Last of the Dwarfs (John C Dvorak)
NCR Corporation (Wikipedia)

So, where’s your “big iron” baby?

The New Computer Museum facilitates the preservation and exhibition of a wide range of computing systems in their original state for the public to experience and enjoy first-hand… within certain limits. Mainframe computers don’t have the nick name “big iron” for no reason. Anything that requires figuring out how to get massive amounts of electrical power just to get started is beyond those limits. The New Computer Museum will not be going into the business of obtaining and maintaining mainframe systems. The goals in this arena are purely educational and collaborative. Mainframes were a crucial stepping stone to today’s computing environment, and luckily, numerous New Computer Museum advisers, donors and supporters will provide relevant artifacts and interpretation of them. The core plane below is just one example of this, so somewhat ironically, we literally have a very small exhibit about “big iron.”

Core Plane


Core Plane: A core plane is a network of magnetic cores. Each core acts as a single storage location. Information can be read by altering the magnetization of the cores. (Note: A core plane has been loaned to the New Computer Museum by an anonymous donor labeled with this text interpretation, and this extremely similar image of a core plane is from the “Magnetic core memory” page on Wikipedia.)

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