Control Data 160

Billy Pettit bpettitx at
Sat Sep 12 22:28:13 CDT 2015

 "wmachacek" <wmachacek at>wrote:
Subject: Control Data 160

I have a CDC "160 Computer Programming Manual" that I obtained many years
ago when I was working with CDC equipment.  This manual caught my eye and I
squirreled it away since we were using the 160-A computers not the 160s.
This manual has a publication number of 023a and a date of 1960.  The
picture shown inside the manual is pretty much like the one described
herein.  It shows the dropped side panels.  The manual shows the Ferranti
paper tape reader and the BRPE paper tape punch as standard equipment.  As
optional equipment it shows Ampex magnetic tape handlers (FR300 or FR400),
an 80 column punched card reader (no maker listed), an 80 column card punch
(no maker listed), a line printer (no maker listed), a Soroban-modified IBM
electric typewriter, and a digital communications line buffer.  This manual
has 45 pages and shows a full view of the computer and a close-up of the
front panel.  I always kept this as a kind of a CDC oddity as I had heard
that the 160s were a proto type and never actually went into production.  At
least that is what I heard back then.  I hope this information kind of helps
to better identify these computers.   Bill



I have a copy of that manual here and was just looking at it.  I believe I have all of the 160 and 160-A documentation and software.  I have been giving it all to Al Kossaw to add to bitsavers.  He is overloaded with so much that needs scanning, that it may be a while before getting posted.

The early 160's used IBM punched card equipment.  The 088 was the usual card reader of choice.  Punching was via an IBM 523 or 521..  Printing was on a 1402 or 407.  All these devices used an adaptor called the 1610.

Later, printing shifted to the Analex 1000 lpn drum printer.  Horrible machine to work on.  A cheaper printer also became available: the 501 drum printer.  It was made by Holley Carburator!  I think it was their only venture into computerdom.  Very unreliable machine, used Teflon hammer assemblies.  I never saw a straight line of printing on any of those machines.

Much of my early career at CDC was swapping out the foreign peripherals and replacing them with CDC ones.  Including the Ferranti Paper Tape Reader.

I'm a little hurt that the 160 is thought to never have gone into production.  I was a customer engineer in the Twin Cities area and worked on lots of them, including some that went to NCR.  Even Honeywell used them to test production .transducers.  This was the first 12 bit machine, and went into production in 1958.  It was extremely reliable.  Other than paper tape gear and typewriter repairs, the only failures I can remember are burned out light bulbs and push button switches.

Its main signifigance was the development of processing the peripheral operations so the large mainframes were freed up for the big jobs. That lead to the 6600, 7600 and the Cyber Series of computers.  Even today, I/O is staged so the big processors are freed up.

The 160 was a Seymor Cray design.  The 160-A was designed by James Pederson in the early 1960's.  It was at the request of several customers who needed more peripheral processing power in the fledling space industry.  Most of the early 160-A sales were to the aerospace industry.  I first worked on them while in the Army.  They were used on missile engine test fixtures in Humtsville, Alabama.

Incredibly reliable machines.  My personal machine (s/n 190) is still working, complete with all origianl parts.  Made in 1963. 52 yers old and still chugging along.  Sadly, I had to give it up for health reasons.  It's now on its way to a Museum.

Billy Pettit

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