The Vacuum Tube Supercomputer Centre

The Vacuum Tube Supercomputer Centre, a fanciful effort by the Hughs Ominous Valve Works, provides an interesting look at how computers might have evolved if the transistor and the integrated circuit had never come into being. Offering “true vector computing at competitive prices”, the Supercomputing Centre

“makes maintenance possible with a fork lift instead of tweezers and a magnifier, and allows a modularity and openness previously impossible in supercomputer architecture. Our industry-leading record for uptime is no accident, as it is common for employees to be changing out or even rewiring circuits while the computer continues steaming away at full speed.”

Computer manufacturers turned to the transistor in the 1950’s, because vacuum tubes tended to leak, and the metal that emitted electrons in the vacuum tubes burned out. Vacuum tubes required so much power that big and complicated circuits were physically too large and took a great deal of energy to run. In the late 1940's, large vacuum tube-based computers were built with over 10,000 tubes; they occupied over 93 square meters of space.

The Vacuum Tube Supercomputing Centre solves the power problem - by providing lots of power. Their “coal-fed boilers power some of the largest turbogenerators ever built by Westinghouse... six of them.”

(From Vacuum Tube Supercomputer Tour)

The random access memory for the computer requires an entire building - "Each module in the RAM Building has railroad access across its entire length, with a large, industrial crane to quickly lift replacement modules or crates of fresh tubes to any part of the facility within minutes."

Since science fiction authors have been imagining the future of computing since the 1940’s, it’s easy to find examples of really "big iron" in their works.

From Robert Heinlein's The Star Beast:

The universal dictionary in the British Museum was not more knowledgeable than the one in the Under Secretary's office; it's working parts occupied an entire building in another part of the Capital, and its staff of cyberneticists, semanticians and encyclopedists endlessly fed its hunger for facts.
(Read more about the universal dictionary)

From Watchdog by Jack Haldeman:

...the earth shook and the sky split as the giant rockets lifted the soul and body of man to Pluto and the distant stars.

Only he stayed behind.

Basically he was six hundred square miles of squat building, with control over a world-wide network of smaller stations and probes.

A babysitter.
(Read more about Watchdog)

From The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams:

"I speak of none other than the computer that is to come after me," intoned Deep Thought, his voice regaining its accustomed declamatory tones. "A computer whose merest operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate and yet I will design it for you. A computer which can calculate the Question to the Ultimate Answer, a computer of such infinite and subtle complexity that organic life itself shall form part of its operational matrix."

"And you yourselves shall take on new forms and go down into the computer to navigate its ten-million-year program! Yes! I shall design this computer for you. And I shall name it also unto you. And it shall be called The Earth."
(Read more about Deep Thought)

Find out more about the Vacuum Tube Supercomputer Centre; thanks to Dan for the tip on this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/21/2005)

Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.

| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | | Digg | Reddit |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 2 )

Related News Stories - (" Computer ")

Illustris: The Next Generation Of Universe Simulation
'This digital device was ... A machine able literally to contain the Universe Itself...' - Stanislaw Lem, 1965.

Atomristors - Atomic Memristors - Using Thin Nanomaterials
'I could almost feel those little tunnel junction neuristors working, forming their own interconnections as I operated it.' - Robert Heinlein, 1966.

RNA-Based Biocomputing Device
Living things can sense and analyze complex signals in living cells.

Loihi Chip Mimics Human Brain's Neurons And Synapses
'You can hook a Thorsen tube into a control circuit... and the tube will "remember" what was done and can direct the operation...' - Robert Heinlein, 1956.



Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Invention Timeline, or see what's New.






Current News

Save Your Brain's Connectome, Upload Yourself Elsewhere
'You've got remote storage. How regular is the update?'

TMS Decreases Belief In God, Increases Belief In Immigrants
'... setting up the same currents, the same basic ideas, in them all.'

Loomo Mini Transporter Robot Companion You Ride On
'Slowly the [robot] horse raised its head, wiggled its ears, blinked twice, gave a tentative whinny.'

Soft Robotics - Now With 3D Printed Sensors!
'A series of chemelectric afferent nerve-analogues, which permitted it to gauge to an ounce the amount of pressure necessary to snap a bone...'

AI Tool Lynx Insight And The Cybernetic Newsroom
'The structure,... was once a great homeostatic newspaper, the New York Times. It printed itself directly below us...'

Espresso Telescope Searches For Exoplanets
'These instruments were the wonderful ones our astronomers had perfected.'

Dune Fans! Metal-Organic Frameworks Make Science Fiction Real
'Dew collectors,' he muttered, enchanted by the simple beauty of such a scheme.

Manned Maneuvering Unit From 1984
'The glittering little rocket bolted to the black iron behind him.'

Astronaut Gets Younger In Space
'So what we're looking for now is not an antibiotic - an anti-life drug - but an anti-agathic, an anti-death drug...'

Blockchain Used To Verify Election Results
'Any adult could punch into the phone his or her code, followed by a yes or no.'

IJOP Integrated Joint Operations Platform China's Minority Report?
'All day long the idiots babbled, imprisoned in their special high-backed chairs...'

HushMe Bluetooth Device Reinvents The Hush-A-Phone
'Talking into a hush-a-phone which he had plugged into the telephone jack...'

Ultrathin Brain Needle Developed At MIT
Putting drugs into a selected cubic millimeter within the living brain.

Tesla Semi Truck Now At Work
Why wait? Tesla Semi now hard at work.

Illustris: The Next Generation Of Universe Simulation
'This digital device was ... A machine able literally to contain the Universe Itself...'

Scaly Yet Soft Robotic Snake
Love those robotic sneks.

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise | - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.