There’s something quite sci-fi about these photos – but the computers depicted in them are real mainframes and components that worked and whirred and chirped from 1950 to the mid-1970s. They appear to be from the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Trek because they look brand new – not the worn museum pieces you might see in the Science Museum or their detail marred by the grain of film photography and poor lighting in news stories from the time.
Their modern-retro appearance is due to the talents of photographer James Ball (aka Docubyte) and retouching studio Ink, who’ve produced shots of each that resemble present-day product photography. The cleanness and clarity of these shots are a wonderful contrast to the vintage stylings of the analogue hulks, which sit on colour tones picked from the computers themselves or are representative of the decades they were produced.
1950: Pilot Ace
Designed by Alan Turing – though completed by the National Physical Laboratory after he left – the Pilot Ace was a prototype computer that was powerful enough to find use performing scientific calculations for the lab’s boffins. It’s currently at the Science Museum in London.
1951: Harwell Dekatron
Known as the WITCH, the Harrell Dekatron was restored to working order in 2012 at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park – making it the world’s oldest working digital computer.
Late 1950s: IBM 729
The IBM 729 isn’t a computer, but a magnetic tape unit – the analog equivalent of your computer’s hard drive. Information was recorded to 1/2-inch-wide tape that could be up to 730 metres in length.
1959: IBM 1401
IBM’s 1401 computer was aimed at smaller businesses. One of its key selling points was that it could work with data stored on – and save data to – both main storage media of the tine: magnetic tape and punch cards, This flexibility that allowed it to be adapted for a wide range of business needs.
1962: EAI Pace TR-48
One of the first desktop computers – though as it was four feet wide, two feet in both other dimensions and weighed as much as 190kg, it came with its own desk.
1965: CDC 6000
The first version of this mainframe computer by Control Data Corporation was built for CERN – now home to the the Large Hadron Collider – where it was used for photographic analysis.
It also looks a bit like Wall-E.
Early 1970s: Media 42TA
This computer was designed and built in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia).
1970s: ICL 7500
British firm ICL designed these terminals to let office-based users access its 2900 Series mainframes, which were used by the likes of the Post Office and the Ministry of Defence. They were built in Letchworth in Hertfordshire.
Unknown date: Endim 2000
This analogue computer was built by Rechenelektronik Glashütte in what was then West Germany. Around 20 were produced, but only one survives today at the Technische Sammlungen Dresden.
Unknown date: HDR 75
Meanwhile, over in East Germany, this small (for its time) analogue computer was created.