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Thread: Whats was the pdp8 and pdp11 used for when they were new?

  1. #11
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Near Milwaukee Wisconsin


    My PDP8E ran a Kearny and Trecker milling machine. You could program it via Mylar (paper) tape. Basically, the computer would control the x and y axis of a large table and the z axis of a rotating chuck. The z axis was also able to choose from 12 different tools. Once programmed, all you had to do was mount a chunk of steel on the table, zero the tool onto a specific corner of the steel and let the machine go and a finished part would eventually be made.

    The front half of the PDP8E card cage was DEC cards and the back half were K&T cards. There were two 12 bit I/O cards that were multiplexed for keeping track of where the tool and table were, speeds of the tool, which tool was selected, etc.

    The machine tool was scrapped. I just happened to be in the shop the day prior to the machine being sent out the door. I was allowed to take the PDP8E, the REMEX paper tape unit and a box full of prints and extra parts. Mike

  2. #12
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    NorthWest England (East Pondia)
    Blog Entries


    Pretty much everything. I think you would be hard to find a use that they were not put to. Certainly that list would probably be much smaller.

    DEC started out making logic boards that could be used to build computers

    so knew the value of custom systems, and unlike most computer manufacturers at the time, were open to users "hacking" their machines.

    Then they really were the first computers with a BUS with a publicly defined interface. So the later PDP-8s had OMNIBUS, early PDP-11 UNIBUS and later 11's Q-BUS.

    This meant you could use them for all sorts of things, and whilst they were expensive they were affordable..

    Dr. Dave Clark used a PDP-8 for collecting medical data in real time at Manchester Medical School. He got it to behave like a tape drive and connected it to an IBM7090 that he scrounged from GCHQ (UK Spy agency) when they upgraded.

    Newcastle University used them to build their early network and for a time had an LSI-11 connected to a train set.

    In the UK the scientific research community must have brought hundreds, actually probably a couple of thousand for use in collecting and re-formating scientific data. Here are some used at the Daresbury laboratory where they had a small particle accelerator. At the top there is a UNIBUS PDP-11 connected to a CAMAC crate (CAMAC was another standard BUS)

    In the UK Barclays Bank had one in each branch to connect terminals back to the Mainframe and provide branch automation....

    So I don't think there was an area where computers could be used, where you could not find a PDP-8 or PDP-11...
    Last edited by g4ugm; May 21st, 2019 at 11:43 PM. Reason: add links for Newcastle

    Looking for Analog Computers, Drum Plotters, and Graphics Terminals

  3. #13


    CNC machines galore, right up until the early 2000s.

    Don't forget Unimates. Everyone forgets them.

  4. #14
    Join Date
    May 2018


    Quote Originally Posted by jlang View Post
    I worked on an 8 in the 70's. it was used for taking bets, calculating odds and updating the "tote" board.
    I've seen lots of stories that pdp-11's are still running nuclear power plants. Given the approval process for that code I'm going to accept that as true.
    In the UK we did one system upgrade and it cost so much we havent risked it again . I know a couple of plants ran Ferranti Argus systems with PDP-11's running as target machines

    Our plant was not built with DEC stuff as TMI seemed to put a stop to the supply, so we are still running our Honeywell DPS6 superminis controlling the alarm and data displays. The reactor itself is controlled by 80286 machines in multibus chassis with a propriatry Pibus I/O rack

  5. #15
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    UK - Worcester


    Of course we have Gary, we are about to upgrade the next in a couple of weeks time...

    Just need to engage the right supplier with a decent Contract. Simples...


  6. #16


    We maintained some 40+ pdp-11 systems at storagetek. Some of the uses: an 11/44 that ran an automated warehouse. 11/70 that controlled robot part deliveries to manufacturing stations. A cluster of 11/34's that did printed circuit board design and layout. an 11/34 that kept records for in-house medical dept. An 11/34 that managed VLSI chip designs. Some general office automation systems. That's about all I can remember from 40 years ago

    We also maintained some DG Nova systems, pretty equivalent to pdp-11's, that managed inventory for a major furniture retailer, managed MICR printing for a major check manufacturing company, provided the thinking for one of the first CAT scanners in the US.

    I worked for CDC in those days, and CDC pretty much owned the OEM disk drive market in the 70's and early 80's, which got me in to see a wide range of other systems using pdp-11's, nova, hp, prime, and other mini systems which had CDC drives (mostly 9762/9766) hooked to them.

  7. #17


    I worked for a number of IC design/manufacturing companies. We used pdp8s as test controllers, production control and statistics analysers. Pdp11s were used (as Applicon workstations) in IC physical design. DG Novas also used (as Calma workstations) in IC physical design. Generally Vaxs came to dominate IC analysis/simulation/verification until the rise of Mentor, Cadence and the like but dedicated layout systems persisted on the lower end machines with custom hardware until the rise of the workstation.

  8. #18


    At my company I had the chance to operate a PDP-11/44 which was retired in 1999.

    The system was used for a "SILO" with a total storage of 32000 paletts. It was running a TOTAL database which was already out of support when I started at that company.

    Sad I could not get my hands on it.

  9. #19
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Reading, England and Picard, Dominica.


    Hi. I worked on PDP-11 systems running RSTS/E from 1974 through to the middle of the 1990s. They were used by a large number of commercial companies, ranging from two users to hundeds. Typically they handled order entry, sales, purchases, stock control, wages etc. PDP-11s also ented up in various niches, such as checking slot machines in casinos, where at one stage about 500 PDP-11s were being used.

    If you are really interested, I could send you some of my own code, written in BASIC PLUS.

  10. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by NicolasF View Post

    I would like to know what type of problems these machines were used to solve when they were new. Is there any kind of source code out there? because I cant seem to find information about this.

    My pdp8/e is a decommissioned unit that did duty in a geosynchronous satellite tracking station
    that was part of a chain of parabolic antenna stations that spanned the length of the Bering Straight.
    Not sure what was the purpose of my pdp while installed there, the last owner who also worked there said they used multiple computers for communications and for controlling the movement of the dish antennas.
    He gave me a picture of the inside of the "relay station" as they were pulling the old computers out of the racks during an upgrade, but I went and lost it.
    where did the blinky-binkys go?


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