The DEC PDP systems never cease to be a source of inspiration for me and the above example of a PDP-7 system at Columbia’s Electrical Engineering department is no exception. I am not sure who took this photo as there was no credit included (source: Columbia Computing History). It would be tempting to gut the cases and fill them with modern studio equipment if you could find a nice used example. Also, if you have an oscilloscope in your computer you win.
For you Mac heads out there, this is your great-grand daddy. A PDP-7, referred to as the “Unix Genesis Machine”, was used by Ken Thompson and his team in 1969 to develop the Unix OS (a very early precursor to what would become Mac OS X).
Here are a couple old DEC ads, one for the PDP-8/I and one for the PDP-8/S. The 8/I would make a wonderful piece of furniture or a nice synthesizer stand. Unfortunately you rarely see these in good shape; here’s a banged up 8e on the bay.
Up top is the original handbook for the Digital PDP11 Microcomputer (front and back). This was a successor of the PDP8 line I covered earlier. This time around we’ve got a liberal shift into the magenta range for the interface. The lower image depicts the machine in use; funny how they’ve dubbed it a "microcomputer" yet it’s peripherals fill an entire room. Makes me realize that for all the ills of the modern world, we as digital artists certainly live in a fortunate time for our chosen profession. The great irony here (considering the proliferation of computer based desktop publishing) is that these brochures for computers were all set photographically, by hand. I’m not sure what typeface that is, it looks rather custom so perhaps it never made the leap to the digital realm as a font. Let us all know if you have any ideas about it’s identity.
Really liking the cream border on the handbook and it looks to be intentional in this case as opposed to being an effect of aging like we saw in the Blue Note covers. Also, here’s an interesting example of a programming card from the PDP, unfortunately it’s a bit cut off.
Whatever a “Minicomputer” is, this was the first one. It cost almost $15,000 in 1974 making it a pretty, but pricey machine. During this period Digital produced a lot of machines featuring interfaces similar to this. I love the color combos and the excellent grid based design. Those toggle switches complete this bold yet welcoming example of top-shelf 70′s industrial design. The color scheme could be construed as somewhat garish for a computer, but remember, this was the 70′s and they were probably trying to “break the design mold” of this particular class of devices. Unfortunately, soon after these became obsolete the industry veered right back into beige/grey tones and boring, toggle-less interfaces. The only standout enterprise-level computer hardware that comes to mind after this were the Silicon Graphics machines of the 90′s and the Sun Systems stuff around the turn of the century. More info on this particular model is here. I like the “digital” logo and it fits nicely up there in the corner. But I couldn’t resist tweaking the text in the upper right to make it look like a poster. You can click the image to see the original version. I have some examples of similar Digital equipment in blue and green I will be posting soon.
Wanted to add that I love the style of the photo. It’s almost as if it’s a drawing, one of those old product shots that sort of blurs the line between photo and illustration. Wonder how they achieved this? Was it an intended effect or a byproduct of the printing method?
Beautiful shot of the RCA Spectra 70 computer (1965). They need to start making ATX cases that look like this and the DEC PDP-8; people would start putting their computers in the middle of the room.
These are the same guys who later brought you this (unrelated but awesome commercials — including Superman Peanut Butter — follow):
Also, apparently “pause” was once known as “stop action” and qualified as a “special effect”. Wait’ll Quigley sees this!