Key Facts about the Atanasoff-Berry Computer
The Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) was created with the specific purpose of solving a system of linear equations. It could operate with up to 29 equations - a great achievement back in its day.
Although the ABC lacked programming architecture, and thus had limited functionality, it was the first computer that implemented three of the most important concepts used in modern computers:
- use of binary characters (ones and zeros) for all figures
- performance of all calculations through electronic rather than mechanical switches and wheel
- use of the Von Neumann architecture principle where memory and calculation performance are two separate processes
The ABC comes with another very important invention built in it - the use of dynamic random access memory (DRAM). This means that the capacitor, losing its charge very quickly, uses a new electronic charge every millisecond.
A charming innovation for its time and a huge step towards the invention of the modern-day computer, the ABC was not able to automatically solve a system of equations. It needed an operator to adjust various functions such as addition, subtraction, reading, writing, converting to binary symbols and more. Today all of this is done through the use of a "boot" program.
The ABC is a crucial element in the construction of the modern computer, in particular due to its incorporation of binary arithmetic and electronic elements. Its specific purpose and lack of programming architecture, however, distinguishes it from modern computers.
The ABC never got patented (due to John Atanassoff’s recruitment in the World War II) and was thus practically unknown until the 1960’s. Until that point it was the ENIAC computer which was considered the first modern-day computer. Iowa State University, where the ABC was invented also did not pursue a patent for it. However, in a 1973 U.S. court ruling established that the principles used in the ENIAC had been copied from the ABC and announced the Atanasoff-Berry computer the first modern-day computer in the world.
For more information: www.atanasoff.org