This summer, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., is featuring an exhibit of intimate photographs of computers from its collection that were recently compiled for a book called Core Memory: A Visual Survey of Vintage Computers.
The book, written by John Alderman and featuring the photography of Mark Richards, chronicles 35 of the most significant computers. The visual history and informative breakdown of the computer reminds us not just how far, but how fast, humans have evolved the computer since the punch card machine.
Here are some highlights from the exhibit and book.
The IBM Model 077 was a collator that compared punch cards and then sorted them by whether they matched to make the filing process easier.
Before the integrated circuit, a magnetic core plane, a series of layered wire grids, was used for computer memory. Magnetic core plane memory was considered an improvement over other methods at the time because it could enable a computer to retain information to be retrieved later, even if it was completely turned off. This is an IBM magnetic core plane from 1958.
The MIT-Raytheon-Apollo Guidance Computer got us to the moon and, more importantly, got us back. The guidance system was used to navigate and monitor the movement of spacecraft for the Apollo missions.
The Illiac IV, built by Burroughs Computer and the University of Illinois, was considered a pioneer in parallel processing and, at the time, the fastest computer in the world. The supercomputer, which took 10 years and $31 million to develop and build, was funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency).
While you had to assemble it yourself, the $666.66 Apple I, designed by Steve Wozniak, could be considered the first Apple computer sold to the public. The success of its meager sales (50 to The Byte Shop in Mountain View, Calif.) helped Wozniak and Steve Jobs attract enough financing to start Apple Computer.
The Commodore 64 personal computer, also known as the C64, came out in 1982 for $599. Its name referred to its 64K of RAM. It's no surprise that many people cite the Commodore 64 as their first computer; the company sold about 20 million of them between 1982 and 1993.