A classic computer: the DEC PDP-8/S

Me (standing, on right) and friends beside our 1970's-style "personal computer", the Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8/S, George Washington High School, Philadelphia, PA, ca. 1972. The PDP-8/S was introduced in 1966 and was the world's first computer to be available "off the shelf." About 1,500 were made. Binary/octal front panel display. Seen here with with 4 kilobytes of 12-bit core memory, 300 CPS optical paper tape reader, 50 CPS punch (floppies had not yet been invented), ASR-33 Teletype.

Total cost was approximately $17,000 in 1960's dollars, enough money to buy more than a half dozen automobiles. In addition to programming it, we conducted experiments on its 2nd generation discrete transistor circuitry, and learned the fine points of computer science quite well. We also used the School District of Philadelphia's Hewlett-Packard HP-2000/C cluster via timesharing on our other ASR-33 teletype.

To see detailed historical information and many pictures of PDP-8/S internals, click here. To see a front panel closeup of a similar PDP-8 computer from a virtual computer museum, click here. Yes, I know what all those lights, labels and switches mean. Today's computers lack the direct feedback on internal operations that classic machines gave users. This is unfortunate; the computer has become a magical "black box" to many. This is one reason why many are now in awe of or controlled by computers instead of in control of computers.

Here's a modern picture of a restored machine merrily flashing away (courtesy "PDP World" by johnb@internet.look.ca, http://www.pdp8.com/):

Here's a picture of a PDP-8/S, in desktop cabinet, from a 1967 DEC book on logic modules:

Yes, there were high school programming contests before the PC era: