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PDP-8 Frequently Asked Questions (posted every other month)
Section - What use is a PDP-8 today?

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What use is a Model T today?  Collectors of both come in the same basic
classes.  First, there are antiquarians who keep an old one in the
garage, polished and restored to new condition but hardly ever used.
Once a year, they warm it up and use it, just to prove that it still
works, but they don't make much practical use of it.

PDP-8 systems maintained by antiquarians are frequently in beautiful
shape.  Antiquarians worry about dust, chipped paint, and missing
switches, and they establish newsgroups and mailing lists to help them
locate parts and the advice needed to fix their machines.

In the second class are those who find old machines and soup them up,
replacing major parts to make a hotrod that only looks like the original
from the outside, or keeping the old mechanism and putting it to uses
that were never intended.  Some PDP-8 owners, for example, have built
PDP-8 systems with modern SCSI disk interfaces!  There is serious
interest in some quarters in constructing an omnibus board that would
support an IDE disk of the variety that was mass-produced for the

Last, there are the old folks who still use their old machines for their
intended purposes long after any sane economic analysis would recommend
such use.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and if it can be fixed,
why bother replacing it?  Both Model T Fords and the classic PDP-8
machines are simple enough that end users can maintain and repair them
indefinitely.  All you need to keep a vintage -8 running are a stock
of inexpensive silicon diodes and a stock of 2N3639B or better,
2N3640 transistors.

Unlike most modern personal computers, PDP-8 systems were routinely sold
with complete maintenance manuals; these included schematic diagrams,
explanations of not only how to use the devices, but how they are built,
and suggestions to those considering building their own peripherals.
Compared with many so-called "open systems" of today, the PDP-8 was far
better documented and far more open.

Preservation of the PDP-8 has proven to be of immense practical value
in defending against the rising tide of patents in the area of
interactive graphics.  For example, when Sanders Associates sued the
Odyssey division of Magnavox, the key testimony in this suit was Steve
Russell's Spacewar, originally written for the PDP-1 in the fall of 1961.
The fact that documented versions of Spacewar and other computer games
dating back to the early 1960's could still be run on a surviving LINC-8
apparently played an important part in arriving at an out-of-court
settlement that ended, for practical purposes, the Sanders claim to
the technology behind all video games.  It is far easier to prove that
some software technology existed by demonstrating it on original hardware
than by waving a dusty listing in front of someone's face!

Finally, the PDP-8 is such a minimal machine that it is an excellent
introduction to how computers really work.  Over the years, many students
have built complete working PDP-8 systems from scratch as lab projects,
and the I/O environment on a PDP-8 is simple enough that it is a very
appropriate environment for learning operating system programming

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Top Document: PDP-8 Frequently Asked Questions (posted every other month)
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Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM