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Whirlwind - an ancient computer


I first learned about computer architecture back in the 1970s. Much of what I learned came from a set of  block diagrams for the old Whirlwind computer built at MIT.  A few years back I had the document scanned in.

Yes, it's built out of vacuum tubes. But it is also the complete design of a stored program digital computer in about 200 pages. 

Most students don't learn about the Whirlwind, but I believe it's been the most influential of the early computer designs. It led to SAGE, which taught IBM how to build computers. All of their 'scientific' designs reflect the control store + bus design of Whirlwind.  Important SAGE engineers from MIT went on to found Digital Equipment Corporation. All the PDPs reflect the Whirlwind architecture.

In the '50s and '60s there was a fashion to draw "computer family trees." Many had either the EDVAC/Univac at the base or von Neumann's IAS machine. Personally, when I look at the alleged descendents of the IAS machine, more of them look like Whirlwind than look like the actual IAS design.

Unfortunately, the format is "legal" size, due to mistakes by the scanner, but it's still a fascinating document.


Click here for the PDF (Legal size paper) of the Whirlwind Block Diagrams

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