Electronic Design

Design '61: Computer Systems

There is virtually no field of business or technology that digital computers will not invade in the next few years. They will share a greater part of the routine paperwork burden, they will control more processes and machine tools, and they will play a more important role in engineering calculations and management functions. On these points all industry spokesmen agree. But on the questions of what computers will look like—what kind of circuits they will use and what components, how large they will be or how small—on these questions, there is controversy aplenty.

There are those who feel that the bright star on the horizon is the tunnel diode. They feel the tunnel diode will fill the needs of tomorrow's gigacycle machines and will take over even in low-speed machines, and see only a temporary lull while computer designers learn to orient their thinking to the use of two-terminal components. However, others see high-speed transistors answering the immediate need for fast computation and see gigacycle machines in the dim distant future only.

Umberto F. Gianola of Bell Telephone's Murray Hill Laboratories sees the possibility of all-magnetic logic in future special-purpose computers. Simpler and more reliable circuits can result, he says, from the use of all-magnetic logic. Gianola recognizes the fact that such circuits are relatively slow, but points out that core materials with higher coercivity (and higher cost) can be used to speed up operation. However, he also recognizes that temperature rise due to hysteresis losses at high speeds may add another problem.

Two important developments are certain to have a profound effect on computer sales and applications. One is the introduction of many medium and small-scale computers whose low prices will open doors to hundreds of companies which couldn't afford larger machines. The second, more dramatic, development lies in the rapid growth of systems to help computers "talk" to each other and to their peripheral equipment. The Dataphone system, announced by AT&T just a few months ago, allows a card reader or paper-tape reader in a company's branch office, for example, to transmit data directly to a large computer installation at the main office. Transmission is over regular, dial-system telephone lines. The user is charged only at regular telephone call rates. (Electronic Design, Jan. 4, 1961, p. 64)

This item and the one below highlight the uncertainty about the tunnel diode as a logic element. The optimism about magnetic logic was more practical, but its limits were readily admitted. Within the following couple of years, speeds were increased for transistors. With logic ICs starting to hit the market, the future directions for computers were soon settled. The cartoon is the work of Jose Aruego, an art assistant on the magazine's art staff at that time.

See associated figure.

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