Slideshow

In Pictures: If it ain't broke, don't fix it: ancient computers in use today

From 1970s minicomputers used for military programs (including nuclear weapons) to an IBM punch-card system still keeping the books at a Texas filter supplier, these are the computers that time forgot.

  • Sparkler Filters' collection of IBM 402 programs on IBM plugboards.

  • The U.S. Navy’s ship-based radar systems and Britain’s Atomic Weapons Establishment, which maintains that country’s nuclear warheads, use PDP minicomputers manufactured in the 1970s by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). Another user of the PDP is Airbus, the French jetliner manufacturer. The PDP was among the second wave of mainframes called minicomputers because they were only the size of a couple of refrigerators instead of big enough to fill a room.

  • John Kowalski's self-portrait from 1998--in front of a wall of Color Computer 3 units.

  • Punch card accounting This photo shows Sparkler Filters' IBM 402, with self-employed field engineer Duwayne Leafley in the foreground. Sparkler’s IBM 402 is an automated electromechanical tabulator that can be programmed (or more accurately, wired) to print out certain results based on values encoded into stacks of 80-column Hollerith-type punched cards. Companies traditionally used the 402 for accounting, since the machine could take a long list of numbers, add them up, and print a detailed written report.

  • Kevin Huffman's boxes of the six programs in the Manzanita "The Business Accountant" software suite for the Apple IIe.

  • The cover of the Namco Museum 50th Anniversary game for the PlayStation 2, a game that Kowalski's CoCo 3 helped to create.

  • The cover of Tron 2.0: Killer App for the Xbox.

  • A DEC VAX 11/780 system in a 1978 photo.

  • The Logical Company's NuVAX 3200, a modern system that replicates a DEC VAX.

  • John Kowalski's Tandy Color Computer 3 running BBS software in a photo from 1996.

  • The punched cards used in the 402, with some mangled cards from a recently cleared jam in the card reader. The cards sit on the IBM 029 key-punch machine.

  • While much of the tech world views a two-year-old smartphone as hopelessly obsolete, large swaths of our transportation and military infrastructure, some modern businesses, and even a few computer programmers rely daily on technology that hasn’t been updated for decades. Here are a few stories of the computers that time forgot, and the people and institutions that stubbornly hold on to them.

  • For Kevin Huffman, who owns and operates Huffman Industrial Warehouse in Eden, North Carolina, that love has never waned. His firm stores and ships out goods for companies that rent his warehouse space, and he regularly uses his vintage Apple IIe to track inventory and keep accounts.

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