5

CRT-Screen-Compact-Desktop-Calculators of the 60's, could versions of this tech have been made as word-processors or even video-games?

Word-Processors - How difficult would it have been to save what was on the delay-line memory onto tape. ( A simple cable could have connected to printers, or simply take tapes to compatible printers )

Video-Games - This would probably involve more circuitry / logic, and of course very few could have afforded one for video games.

NOTE - I cannot find how data on Delay-line memory was edited after input, assuming some machines allowed editing, these crt-calculators would probably not have.

A reason for asking is to possibly discover unknown machines. And am now thinking if Delay-line memory may have been an explanation for some very early radar consoles appearing to generate alpha-numeric characters on their screen ( not done by a transparent physical overlay on their screen ), which I have seen on tv, which seemingly appeared to be from the late 40's.

13
  • Wikipedia says one implemention was used for video terminals - tiny ones - 4 lines x 40 char/line - so you could have composed a tweet on one. But networks hadn't been invented ... so only you could read it.
    – davidbak
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 15:38
  • 1
    It might help if you add why/for what purpose this is asked.
    – Raffzahn
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 16:49
  • A reason for asking is to possibly discover unknown machines. And am now thinking if Delay-line memory may have been an explanation for some very early radar consoles appearing to generate alpha-numeric characters on their screen ( not done by a transparent physical overlay on their screen ), which I have seen on tv, which seemingly appeared to be from the late 40's.
    – infomtn
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 17:10
  • @infomtn No, those displays were based on special to type vector displays using serious machines to be driven, not calculators. Machines with drum and core.
    – Raffzahn
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 17:35
  • What do mean by 'editing delay line memory'? It was a form of storage where each bit had to be periodically rewritten, much as dynamic RAM requires refresh. To change it, you write the new value of the bit. The sequential access means you have to wait for the sequence of bits you want, much as on rotating memories (disk/drum) but does not intrinsically change your ability to update those bits.
    – dave
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 18:21

3 Answers 3

10

In computing's early history, the main limit was not usually speed, but memory capacity. This is sometimes still true today.

Many of those 1960s calculators are indeed basically little microcontrollers, with a sequencer as sophisticated as a general purpose CPU. With the right design, A bit-serial processor in that style, would be fine for word processing. It'd be fast enough, and relatively cheap and compact -- it could probably fit on a single large PCB even with 1960s discrete technology.

As foreshadowed, the problem is the memory. A classic computer-style word processor is going to be at least several kilobytes of software. Probably many tens of kilobytes. Documents will need at least a few kilobytes of memory for buffers while edited. And so on.

We might try to avoid even that! No software, per se. Just a simple sequencer, and a buffer, tied to an IO device and a CRT tube. Read or type bytes in to point at buffer, read bytes out to tape or printer.

We still need the buffer. Perhaps 40x12 8-bit characters. Small screen but usable. 480 bytes. Plus assorted state and etc. Many hundreds more bytes.

A reason for asking is to possibly discover unknown machines.

You might be interested in the IBM MT/ST, released in 1964. It was a Selectric typewriter with a magnetic tape unit. It worked somewhat like a Flexowriter, which was a similar typewriter system but which ran off paper tape. They could be used to edit documents, in a way.

It would have been technically possible to do a similar thing with a CRT display in the 1960s. The first use of a minicomputer with a CRT display to edit documents dates to at least around 1960. But CRT text displays required what was then a very large amount of memory, and high speed electronics.

Those desk calculators typically had both RAM and ROM measured in bits, not even kilobits. They'd need 10x as much memory or more. Even with delay line memory being the cheapest kind of memory, this is starting to get very expensive. Such a machine would cost roughly around as much as a car did at the time. With specialization it'd be cheaper than a full-blown minicomputer, but not a typical office device. Mainly for cost reasons it did not become common technology until the 1970s. Integrated circuits really did change everything.

video games

Pong came out in 1972. Nothing really prevented someone from designing something similar in the 1960s, with a more complex sequencer and more state, although it would have been accordingly more expensive to manufacture and so I doubt there would have been a market.

1
  • 1
    Pong was a latecomer to the computer-gaming scene. OXO pre-dated it by twenty years.
    – Mark
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 0:37
5

TL;DR: No and Rather Not.

CRT-Screen-Compact-Desktop-Calculators of the 60's

Assuming this is about the Friden EC130/132/1162 series, using a CRT for stack display and a magneto resistive delay line as working storage, like shown here:

enter image description here

Then the answer is a clear:

  • Word Processor: NO
  • Games: Rather NOT

This is simply due the fact that the delay line memory misses even the tiniest amount of storage to do anything useful. The 5ms line used in the Friden EC130 series (*1), was barely enough to hold 5 registers with 13 decimal places or 65 decimal numbers at whole. Each digit was stored as zero to nine pulses.


Word-Processors - How difficult would it have been to save what was on the delay-line memory onto tape.

Not so much. Still might have cost a few hundred to a thousand 1960 USD (*2) to operate such a tape reliable. But even beside that, it would have taken way more than the available 65 decimal digits of storage to do some useful editing - not to mention that an according display would as well have needed way more storage than the procedural generated decimal digits.

(A simple cable could have connected to printers, or simply take tapes to compatible printers )

A 'simple cable' do what to a 'what'? Sorry, but that part wasn't invented back then. Printers were special to design. Sure, in the early 1960s CDC (and later others) started to build peripherals compatible with (mostly) IBM mainframes, but this as the upper end of market, not anything to come near a calculator type device - in fact, even the interface to handle them might have needed more electronics than the whole Friden 130.

Companies like Centronics, offering vendor independent devices, only came up in the mid 1970s. And no, TTY were not generic.

Video-Games - This would probably involve more circuitry / logic, and of course very few could have afforded one for video games.

Unless this is about some number games, it would have needed a complete different machine. Sure, such could have been designed, but it would not resemble any calculator - after all, why should it.

NOTE - I cannot find how data on Delay-line memory was edited after input, assuming some machines allowed editing, these crt-calculators would probably not have.

It's a RPN stack. A new number could be entered to replace the top entry (bottom line) as often as needed, or the whole stack could be cleared. So, yes, editing was there.

Keep in mind, these were calculators, not computers, and reduced to the minimum needed. Real computers would use drum memory (like the prototype(s) for the EC130 did), or, for extreme high speed, core memory.

Core is what HP used in 1968 for their HP9100, which in turn wasn't a calculator, but already a programmable computer (*3) with 'much' more memory - still not really enough to do serious word processing, not even for a tweet.

Then again, this is already the time when short after full desktop systems like the Datapoint 2200 or Cogar 4 became available, using solid state memory and a CRT.


Long story short, any word processor would (and have) used different technology than the Friden calculators. Likewise any game. It could have been done, but wouldn't have been related.


*1 - The EC132 only differs AFAIR by the way an empty register is filled if values are popped, by copying the TOS value - creating an implied constant memory. The EC1162 again is a cost and size reduced version using integrated circuits.

*2 - The Olivetti MLU 600 tape, used with the 1971 P602 calculator/computer cost ca. 700 USD. So a mid 1960s unit migh have been easy past 1000 USD. Quite a lot considering that a new VW Beatle was USD 1500 in 1960 :))

*3 - Which in turn meant that a court forced them to pay the enormous sum of 900,000 USD to Olivetti for infringing their patents on the Programma 101 series of 1965 - which in fact used delay line memory (with a size of ca. 240 of today's bytes), but had only a printer for output.

-1

People could and did use Teletype machines for word processing: type the text to paper tape, then run sections of the tape through a reader with output through a punch to edit (if you had that capability) or cut and paste the tape to edit.

And that overlapped with one-line calculators, so you could have used an LCD display to show what your were reading and punching. But in practice, the people editing paper tape could normally read characters directly from the hole pattern -- they didn't need a typewriter or lcd display to see what they were doing.

1
  • 3
    LCD displays weren't even invented until 1968, and it was several years before they were used for calculators, let alone alphanumeric displays. Calculator displays at the time were CRTs (as in the question here) or nixie tubes or similar. Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 0:36

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .