An expensive, slow computer that takes up a lot of room…

By | March 15, 2011
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In the Computers newsletter this month:
  • An expensive, slow computer that takes up a lot of room…
  • A very short tip about USB gadgets
  • A reader’s tip for laptops
  • A quick word about videos

Well, I’m down in Plymouth visiting Mum and Dad at the moment but I borrowed their PC to send out the mid-month newsletter.

And I’ve got several interesting snippets for you. An explanation of something odd things you plug into USB ports do, a very old computer and a handy program.

A very expensive, slow computer that takes up a lot of room…

How about this: A slow computer that won’t run any of your normal programs, takes up a lot of room and is set to cost around £250,000.

It’s not Microsoft’s latest scheme. It’s a project funded by an entrepreneur to recreate one of the very first fully electronic computers, called EDSAC and dating from the 1940s, to go on display at The National Museum of Computer at Bletchley Park. (Here’s a photo of the original:

The original model was used by some researchers to do some work that later won them the Nobel Prize – so it was pretty significant.

It won’t be quite an exact recreation – partly because not all of the plans survive and partly because the Mercury valves originally used (all 3000 of them) aren’t considered safe nowadays, so they’ll use an alternative. But it’ll be basically the same sort of computer as they built then.

To compare it to modern computers, it has 2000kB of memory (the PC I’m typing this on has roughly 2000,000kB) and it does 650 “instructions” per second (ie 650 individual sums or actions). 650 sounds a lot – but the PC I’m using now does 2390,000,000,000. This PC fits neatly on a desk – but EDSAC takes up a large room. And to run a program on this PC you double click an icon – with EDSAC you feed a stack of cards with holes in them into it.

In fact my mobile phone is more powerful than EDSAC. Then again, my mobile phone sometimes seems to be as difficult to use, too…

A very short tip about USB gadgets

Lots of things plug into USB ports – printers, mice, keyboards, scanners and lots of other things. But sometimes if you plug one in that you’ve used before, it’ll start installing. “What’s it doing?” you might think. “I’ve already installed it!”. But don’t panic. With some gadgets, if you plug them into a different USB port, the computer doesn’t know it’s the same gadget and installs it again. Once it’s done, you can use it in either USB port and it should work fine.

One of the strange quirks of modern PCs but not anything to worry about.

Useful for laptops

A tip from a reader:

I have just bought a new laptop and as you may know most laptops and notebooks these days do not have LEDs for Caps lock, Num lock or Scroll lock, which is annoying when unknowing you leave them on. With this in mind I was told to go to ‘keyboard LEDs’ in Google. There you will find several free programs to solve this problem. It works a dream. There is a small icon in the system tray showing red if any of the locks are on and in addition a red warning CAPS LOCK ON appears just above the time, and goes off when you turn it off. Hope this is helpful.

Thanks for this tip – I have to admit that although I knew some laptops come with a program like this already installed, I didn’t know you could download one.

A quick word about videos

If you’re unsure about the “Get More From Your PC” and “Get More From the Internet” videos, it’s worth having a read of the full information and making a quick decision. I’ve checked with Laura and we do still have some of the 1000 books we’re giving away… but not many and they won’t last long. So if you’re not sure, have a read the full info to help you make your mind up:

That’s all for now – I’m off to see whether Mum and Dad will let me get a look in with Alastair!

Tim Wakeling

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