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British Industrial History

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Ferranti: Computers

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1955. Ferranti Pegasus Computer.
1956. An electronic digital computer.
Sept 1956
1983.
1983.
1990.

Note: This is a sub-section of Ferranti

1949 Ferranti formed a Computer Group, joining with various university-based research groups to develop computers.

1949 November: the specification for the Manchester Mark I computer was completed[1]

1951 Ferranti delivered the machine to the University.

By 1951 Ferranti had a contract from the Ministry of Supply to provide the engineering support for the team at Manchester University[2]

1951 National Research Development Corporation agreed with Ferranti that they would develop a commercial computer. The contract covered the construction of six copies of the Manchester computer. This became the Ferranti Mk 1. Ferranti would sell these as agents for NRDC. In all about nine were delivered between 1951–1957.[3]

1953-5 Ferranti found that Manchester, the centre for development of the computer, was just too far from the corridors of power when it came to selling them. So the company set up a specialist sales and development centre in the heart of London, which proved indispensable in helping Ferranti create a market for the computer. The London Computer Centre, in Portland Place, was equipped with a Pegasus computer which was built in the Centre.

1956 The work on packaged computers led to the Pegasus computer, and then Pegasus 2, which evolved to suit commercial applications better. Pegasus was also well suited to scientific calculations for the aerospace industry. This machine was followed by Perseus.

Mercury was another computer derived from Manchester University work, based on the prototype called Meg. It was found to be suited for scientific calculations in nuclear research laboratories.[4]

From Perseus came the Orion 1 and 2 computers - Orion 2 had the most advanced operating system and facility for simultaneous programming of any computer of its time[5]

1957 The sixth Pegasus machine was delivered to Vickers-Armstrongs (Aircraft) Ltd in May 1957.[6]. In all 23 Pegasus 1s were sold to outside customers; followed by 11 Pegasus 2s[7]

1958-62 Work began on a completely new design of computer, the Atlas, based on work done at Manchester University (MUSE project). This started soon after the delivery of the Pegasus/Mercury, aiming to dramatically improve performance. The Atlas machine first ran in 1962; the university had half of the machine time - Ferranti sold the other half to third parties. Ferranti eventually built three of these machines.

A version of the Atlas modified for the needs of the University of Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory led to the Titan (or Atlas 2), which was the mainstay of scientific computing in Cambridge for nearly 8 years.

1961 Vickers Armstrong purchased a Pegasus type 2 in June 1961.

1963 The Computer Department was sold to International Computers and Tabulators Limited (ICT). By this time, Ferranti's mid-size machines were no longer competitive but efforts to design a replacement had bogged down. Into this void stepped the Canadian division, Ferranti-Packard, who had used several of the ideas under development in England to produce very quickly the Ferranti-Packard 6000. After studying several options, ICT selected the FP 6000 as the basis for their ICT 1900 line which sold into the 1970s.

The deal with ICT excluded Ferranti from the commercial sector of computing but left the industrial field free. Some of the technology of the FP 6000 was later used in Ferranti's Argus range of computers. The first computer was the Argus 200 which was developed at the Wythenshawe factory. The Argus 100 and 300 followed, aimed at process control applications. Jodrell Bank used an Argus 100 to control its Mark II telescope in 1964, which was replaced by an Argus 400 in 1971. These computers were all built with discrete germanium transistors.

Both the ICT 1900 series and the Argus had 24 bit words. The assembler was almost identical, but with slightly different mnemonics (1900 assembler was called PLAN, Ferranti Argus assembler was called APRIL.) The ICT 1900 series advanced with a COBOL compiler, to become a successful commercial computer for many years.

Meanwhile in Bracknell, Digital Systems division was developing a range of mainframe computers for naval applications. Early computers using discrete transistors were the Hermes and Poseidon and these were followed by the F1600 in the mid 1960s. Some of these machines remained in active service on naval vessels for many years. The FM1600B was the first of the range to use integrated circuits and used in many naval and commercial applications.

The FM1600D was a single rack version of the computer for smaller systems. An airborne version of this was also made and used aboard the RAF Nimrod. The last in the series was the FM1600E which was a redesigned and updated version of the FM1600B.

By 1967 there were around 30 Ferranti Pegasus computers in use[8]

1968 The Argus 500 was the first in the range to use integrated circuits and had considerably more computing power than the earlier machines. It allowed the use of Fortran and, later, CORAL compilers and had huge success in real time applications, from Command and Control centres, to industrial control. The Argus 400 was a version of this with reduced facilities.

1969 Vickers donated its Pegasus 1 to Brooklands Technical College, Weybridge, who later gave the machine to Manchester Museum on being given a Pegasus 2 by Vickers Armstrong.

1970s Early in the decade Ferranti designed the Argus 700; this also achieved international success for industrial and military applications.

Meanwhile in Bracknell, Digital Systems division was developing a range of mainframe computers for naval applications. Early computers using discrete transistors were the Hermes and Poseidon and these were followed by the F1600 in the mid 1960's. Some of these machines remained in active service on naval vessels for many years. The FM1600B was the first of the range to use integrated circuits and used in many naval and commercial applications.

The FM1600D was a single rack version of the computer for smaller systems. An airborne version of this was also made and used aboard the RAF Nimrod. The last in the series was the FM1600E which was a redesigned and updated version of the FM1600B.

1984 Retailer of personal computers made by Future Technology Systems of Glasgow[9]

1984 Computer Systems was one of 5 divisions of Ferranti established as part of a reorganisation.

1985 Ferranti Computer Systems Ltd of Oldham offered PC 860 and PC 860 XT personal computers at prices competitive with the comparable products of IBM[10]

1989 The Computer Maintenance Systems business at Wythenshawe was sold to ServiceTec[11]

1994 Ferranti was placed in receivership. The computer section of Ferranti was bought out of bankruptcy by a Thomson-CSF subsidiary called SYSECA. It traded on as Ferranti-SYSECA, until the Ferranti name was finally dropped about 1996.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Early Manchester computers [1]
  2. NRDC's role in the early British computer industry, by John Crawley[2]
  3. NRDC's role in the early British computer industry by John Crawley[3]
  4. The Early Computer Industry: Limitations of Scale and Scope, By Anthony Gandy
  5. After the Elliott 400 series, by Hugh McGregor Ross [4]
  6. Determining the Age of the Manchester Pegasus, by Ken Turner [5] Article by Ken Turner
  7. The Early Computer Industry: Limitations of Scale and Scope, By Anthony Gandy
  8. British Computer Industry - Success Or Failure? by Nicholas Enticknap [6]
  9. The Times July 31, 1984
  10. The Times Oct. 15, 1985
  11. The Times Jan. 31, 1990