Although the history of computing is not very long, it also contains its own milestones.

If we focus on hardware development, one of them can be found in the creation of one of the most famous computers in history, built during the 1940s and still talked about today.

ENIAC, the history of the giant hardware that became legendary

ENIAC was one of the first computers in history and its technical development, its dimensions and some of the anecdotes surrounding it have made it a hardware legend..

Do you want to get to know her a little better?

What is ENIAC?

The name ENIAC computer comes from the acronym for Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer.

It was the largest computer of its time, created in 1943 at the University of Pennsylvania by engineers John Presper Eckert and John William Mauchly, and programmed by Betty Snyder Holberton, Jean Jennings Bartik, Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum and Frances Bilas Spence.

Given that its creation was projected in the years when the United States was immersed in World War II, its initial purpose was the calculation of ordnance tables (essentially, projectile trajectories) for the U.S. Army Ballistics Research Laboratory.

Its operation was completely digital, unlike other computers of the time, which tended to follow analog processes.

The ENIAC is considered to be the first general-purpose, all-digital computer ever created (the German Z1, developed in the 1930s by Konrad Zuse, had been the first general-purpose computer, but it had analog parts).

Punch cards were used for reading and writing data and its programming was done through a very complex network of wires.

Some of the features that have made ENIAC a legend

This series of curiosities and characteristics of the ENIAC machine will help you understand a little better the technological milestone that its creation meant.

– It was called the “mechanical brain”

In July 1946 and in the face of unusual press curiosity, ENIAC was presented to the public and baptized by the media as the “mechanical brain”. Some also called it the “electronic Einstein”.

– Its dimensions were unprecedented for the time

We are probably talking about the largest computer ever built. In fact, it took 30 months to build it. It occupied an area of 167 square meters, weighed 27 tons, was 2.4 meters high and had 70,000 resistors, 17,468 vacuum tubes, 10,000 capacitors, 7,200 crystal diodes, 1,500 relays and five million solder joints.

– It was one of the first computers to use binary language.

Leaving the decimal system behind and multiplying its speed, this may have been the ENIAC’s greatest contribution to the history of computing. Thus, it worked in such a way that when an electrical switch was open it equaled 1 and when it was closed it equaled 0.

– It was not easy to program

Its operators had to use more than 6,000 switches, so each modification to its software required weeks of work in its introduction alone.

– It was very delicate

ENIAC operated using thermionic valves (vacuum tubes) that broke down very frequently. It is estimated that it could not operate for more than 10 minutes without one of them breaking down, and each breakdown meant spending more time in locating and repairing it.

However, it was realized that the times when most breakdowns occurred were when the machine was turned on and off, so a decision was made not to turn the machine off, which led to a reduction in the frequency of breakdowns to an average of one every two days.

– It had enormous power for the time

Compared to the power of today’s computers it may sound ridiculous, but ENIAC was capable of performing 5000 additions or 300 multiplications in one second, which was quite a milestone at the time. Legend has it that during its years of operation it performed more mathematical calculations than the whole of mankind had performed up to that time.

– It was a machine that left its mark

Its colossal dimensions and the limitations of the time meant that ENIAC was noticeable in its environment every time it was used. For example, it raised the temperature of the room in which it was housed to 50ºC and its consumption (160 kW) caused blackouts in the city of Philadelphia, next to where it was located, when it was in operation.

– ENIAC inspired John Von Neumann

In 1944, the famous mathematician and physicist John Von Neumann, considered by many as the “father of the modern computer” (together with Alan Turing), worked in the ENIAC environment, writing the article “First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC”, which dealt with the design of a computer with stored programs and in which the concept of “Von Neumann Architecture” was introduced for the first time.

– ENIAC was deactivated on October 2, 1955.

Overtaken by the rapid advance of computing (to which ENIAC itself had contributed decisively), the computer was deactivated forever on that date, but not before leaving almost a decade of work in fields such as atomic energy, cosmic rays or, of course, ballistics.

Stories such as that of ENIAC remind us that it has not been easy to reach the point of development at which we find ourselves. Devices as apparently simple as a cell phone or a laptop may seem are heirs to the work of many people who, over the decades, have striven to take computing always one step further.

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