World's First RAM Chip

Uploaded by EdisonTechCenter on 20.12.2012

This is a memory plane, that I snuck out of the lab at MIT years ago
I was a member, as a young graduate student of a group developing magnetic core memory.
The leader of our group was a man named Bill Papian.
One of the key people in that group was Ken Olsen who was later a founder of a corporation called digital equipment corporation.
Several of the guys in the group left with Ken Olsen to form DEC.
This was the first Random Access Memory, RAM. It was practical, reliable, and quite high speed.
The time that it took with this memory to request information, then get the information, was in the order of one microsecond.
And if you don't know what that is it is a millionth of a second
Its much slower than memory today, when we were working with this we never imagined what could of happened with memory today.
All the wiring in this memory plane had to be hand wired, it was done by a women technician, I don't remember her last name, but her first name was Hilda.
Its like knitting
You can see the contacts, this connects all the wirest that go through the memory plane
This was a single memory plane, and you have many of these stacked on top of another.
So if you had a 16 bit memory, you'd have 18 of these, 16 for storage, and two for parody checking, that would allow you to do memory checking.
The machine that we put this in was Whirlwind. It was a hand-made machine that we worked on at MIT back in the late 1950s and 60s.
Pieces of the machine today are in the Smithsonian. At the time all computers in the world were hand made.
And I think there were approximately 6 computers in the whole world. This became very reliable. The storage is magnetic.
Each of the little black toroids, they are like tires on a car, Hilda wove all those wires, and there are 4096 cores on this plane.
So this thing can store 4096 bits, but today that is nothing, but then that was incredible. Each of these black toroids stored one bit.
You can see how the bits are stored. Today on a memory chip if you want to see how the bits are stored you need a very high powered microscope.
Before the memory plane they used electrostatic storage.
It was called electrostatic storage, and with it every couple of hours you'd get a memory alarm. If that happens, then you know that there was a mistake in getting something out of memory.
and the calculations you did over the last couple of hours become suspect. You'd have to throw it away and start all over again.
So they would be getting memory alarms at Whirlwind every couple of hours on average.
With this memory we installed in Whirlwind, you'd get a memory alarm once every couple months.
So you'd be able to calculate with the computer for months at a time, without having to worry do I have a memory error, do I have some bad data.
This was a huge breakthrough. This is what made the digital computer practical.
And I was a young kid when we worked on this, it was quite an amazing thing for me.
And I tried to explain to my father that this thing could add two numbers together in a few millionths of a second. And he said what's the hurry, why do you have to go so fast?
We were concerned about a Soviet attack on the United States. We were worried about Soviet bombers coming over, we had radar providing real time signals into the computer.
And the purpose of it was that we were tracking soviet aircraft. Not long after this was developed the government set out for bid making computers for air defense centers.
I think they were going to make 20 air defense centers. IBM won the contract. IBM was making some crude computers, they were doing alot with punchcards, key punches and all this mechanical stuff.
They were very good at that. Then they got this technology lock, stock and barrel. So they came into our lab, they took my lab notebook.
I spent a week or two with an IBM engineer explaining all the ins and outs, all the details of how this works. Next thing I saw a few years later was the IBM 701 computer. It had this memory in it.
Today you call these things mainframes. You could put 1000 of them in a rist watch today, but then it took up a whole half of a building. The other half of the building was air conditioning.
So that is how it became commercialized.