64-bit Chip

This vintage photo portrays the previous paradigm shift in electronic memory… This is a 64 bit (not KB, MB or GB) memory chip from the mid 60s on top of the industry standard at the time – core memory (hand woven iron rings that store a 1 or a 0 magnetically).


One of the original IBM engineers, who first put memory chips into a computer, sent me this print. The chip is a SP95 Phase 2 Buffer Memory (The Phase 1 chip was 16 bits), produced at IBM Essex Junction, VT. SP95 was the first commercial application of IC memories in a computer (the IBM S-360, model 95 scientific computer that shipped to NASA in 1966).


The IC grabbed the proverbial brass ring, and had its day in the sun.

  • seanhfoto 10y

    You've come along way baby!!!

    Really like the link you sent, got to get an airzooka for work!
  • fisheggs 10y

    Just wanted to comment that I love your tech pictures so much! All that stuff was happening when I was a kid and my dad was in Santa Barbara doing system administration (in it's earliest forms). So this not only appeals to the geek in me, it's a walk down memory lane. I remember when my mom took a Cobol class at the local community college...
  • Steve Jurvetson 10y

    wow. 4 different perspectives from 4 different noses. Thanks!
  • Matt Fitzwater-Stevens 10y

    This is an educated layperson's stupid question: I noticed that in two of the rows in your vintage photo, the magnetic rings are touching. Wouldn't this create a short circuit, corrupting the memory?
  • Marc Soller 10y

    Matt: Those are magnets, not electrical conduits. Touching doesn't effect their magnetic properties.
  • Matt Fitzwater-Stevens 10y

    I thought through your observation for a while, and I think I understand. The magnetic field generated by an electric current surrounds the object conducting the current. If Magnet A has its wire charged, it flips polarity; its doughnut shape makes it a very efficient receptor of the magnetic field. But, even if the electric current flows into the adjacent Magnet B, it won't flip Magnet B, because the resulting magnetic field is outside Magnet B.

    Okay. Got it. And if I understand the design correctly, a magnet can only be flipped if both wires piercing it are charged at once. (I guess they're designed to each carry half the juice necessary?) Even if the spurious current then flows into the wires running through Magnet B, they can't flip any other magnets, since Magnet B is the only point where those two wires intersect.

    So, have I now mastered the basic physics of 40-year-old RAM? :-)
  • Steve Jurvetson 10y

    yup, some good detail can be found in the wikipedia
  • WisDoc 9y

    Wow, cool shot! This would be perfect for the "Geometry" theme contest at the Scientist Photographers pool this week. Well done!
    (from Scientist Photographers group)
  • oliwier 8y

    WordMingle, a social vocabulary building tool, pulled this picture for the word Paradigm
  • Niels Heidenreich 8y

    I notice on the chip there are 12 identical-looking units. Would that be the actual memory (and the other stuff is for the memory interface, or some other administrative function)? – Then how can 64 bits be divided up in 12 units?
  • Steve Jurvetson 8y

    I don't know, but I can see a pattern of 64 repeated units, 4 of which are around each of the 12 squares you mention, and 8 more in each of the rows along the left and right edges.
  • Niels Heidenreich 8y

    Ah-haa! Very good, I should've looked at the large size…
  • TwelveX 6y

    One of my teachers in college had one of these magnetic memory blocks sitting on his windowsill.

    Hadn't thought of them again 'till now.
  • Softpedia Science 6y

    We've used your picture on one of our articles. You can find it here

    Great shot!
  • prudhvi kanth for love 6y

    thats great
  • born1945 5y

    For the time line, these ring core storages were still being used by the military ship-board in the 1970s. Here is A LINK to a site that has information on the origin of the Univac computer that first came out in about 1958 and continued in use through the Vietnam War on the NTDS systems (Naval Tactical Data System.
  • Erik Charlton 5y

    Just saw this one for the 1st time...wonderful!
  • Niels Heidenreich 5y

    The chip is 64 bits; the core memory below shows ~30 bits (if you include the ones slightly out of frame). But the chip is only about a ninth of the size of the piece of core memory shown. So the miniaturisation seen here is 18 : 1 if my math serves me right. That might not seem much at first thought, but it is way higher than Moore's Law (which didn't exist yet at the time, or did it?)
  • Steve Jurvetson 5y

    If you abstract Moore's Law for what people really purchase - storage or computation - then it did exist. Gordon Moore was seeing a refraction of the longer term trend:
    Transcending Moore’s Law
    and from my collection of core memories, I can tell you that they miniaturized each year.
  • Niels Heidenreich 5y

    I'd never doubt it :)
    I remember seeing that graph in your stream before. It's amazing.
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Taken on March 14, 2005
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