What was the typical configuration — CPU, memory, disks (number and type), printers, terminals, OS, etc — for a university PDP-11 system in the mid-late 1970s? I'm more interested in the FORTRAN/BASIC engineering department numerical side than the computer science one.

I'd like to get the feel of using one of these systems: how it was to create and run files, and what the limits of the system were. I realize that running under simh isn't exactly like handling a deck of punch cards or loading tapes, but at least it will show me what the commands were.

  • 1
    This may be a good question to ask on the SIMH mailing list.
    – Leo B.
    Jan 18, 2017 at 6:36
  • Yes, thanks, it may be. It looks a pretty busy list, and the tech level is quite daunting
    – scruss
    Jan 20, 2017 at 3:00

1 Answer 1


I've used several PDP-11's in a university environment (in the appropriate time period). The engineering ones were usually a bit smaller than the Computer Science ones, as they often controlled equipment rather than ran numerical work. Numerical work would have been done on larger mainframes. For example, I've seen machines controlling X-ray microscopes and such like.

A typical university PDP-11 of the era is shown in this lovely sequence of videos from DePauw University:


Hopefully that would give you some idea.

The machines would have run RSX from DEC at that period. Only later machines used unix. There would have been much assembler programming, some basic some Fortran.

  • 2
    Curiously, when I was at the University of Delaware in the late 1970s, the Computer Science department had a relatively low-end PDP-11/34 running RSTS-11 for teaching low-level programming and computer architecture, while the EE department had a much bigger PDP-11/70 running Unix that everyone used for general computing. I got to use both of them since I was pursuing an EE/CS major.
    – Dave Tweed
    Jan 19, 2017 at 2:10
  • Thanks for the DePauw link. It is of a very small PDP-11, though. I may have to just go with as big an emulated machine as I can keep track of, running the latest version of RSX-11 and see how far I get
    – scruss
    Jan 20, 2017 at 3:05

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