Using vintage computers in the classroom

Ethan Dicks ethan.dicks at
Mon Mar 29 15:35:27 CDT 2010

On Mon, Mar 29, 2010 at 4:14 PM, Ian King <IanK at> wrote:
>> On Mon, Mar 29, 2010 at 3:25 PM, Ian King <IanK at> wrote:
>> > We're still in our first steps, and haven't made a lot of use of
>> vintage systems in the classroom (although I do like to bring along my
>> PDP-8/f, just to demonstrate what a desktop computer looked like in
>> 1970).
> You're right, and the point of using an 8/f is that I walk into the room with it
> on a little luggage cart and lift it onto the desk, plug it in and fire it up.

Indeed.  If you had one to haul around, an -8/L with a desktop lid
would be heavier and larger than an -8/f (similar to an 8/e), but be a
reflection of the same sort of thing in 1968... a desktop computer for
under $10,000! (as was once advertised, IIRC)

>  Of course, without a terminal of some sort as well as mass storage (minimally a paper tape reader), it's
> not much use.

Sure - I can't imagine that there were many PDP-8s that didn't at
least have an ASR-33.  If you have access to one that's in the
tabletop (not pedestal mount) configuration, it might not be too hard
to wheel that plus your -8/f (or an -8/L) on that luggage cart - as
long as you don't tip the ASR-33 too far off of vertical, naturally.
A 4K machine plus ASR-33 (w/PTR) is enough to at least demonstrate
FOCAL.  If it has core (all -8/L models did, but I don't recall if the
-8/f has the right PSU for core), you can even just turn it on and
have it start chattering - instant resume from hibernate!

>  But all of that is a good starting point to talk about how computers became more and more accessible to the individual across that era.  There was nothing like it ten years earlier.  -- Ian

Sure, 10 years earlier, but there was something like that two years
earlier, and perhaps 5-6 years earlier (the PDP-8/S, though I'm not
sure what you could reasonable show off with a 4K tabletop unit since
the TTY interface is external).

Fiddly details aside, it's still cool to wheel in a "personal
computer" from the era and watch the audience gape - I've done that
with my -8/L.


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