World’s oldest working digital computer on display at English museum

In this day and age, six months could be the difference between what is considered state-of-the-art and that which has faded into obsolescence. Thus is the nature of the modern electronic lifecycle.

There is little nostalgia for a five-year-old laptop that has been surpassed by countless newer models. However, a 61-year-old computer the size of one's living room has proven to be awe-inspiring, even though it's processing power pales in comparison to anything consumers can buy online today.

The Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell, or WITCH, has undergone a three-year restoration process at The National Museum of Computing in Buckinghamshire, England. It is now the world's oldest operational digital computer, according to the museum.

WITCH was designed to automate calculations that, up until that point, had been done by individuals using mechanical calculators. It wasn't even meant to handle more complex computations faster than humans could. It was simply built to do them at the same pace but for days on end without error.

"In 1951 the Harwell Dekatron was one of perhaps a dozen computers in the world, and since then it has led a charmed life surviving intact while its contemporaries were recycled or destroyed," Kevin Murrell, trustee of the museum said in a statement. "As the world's oldest original working digital computer, it provides a wonderful contrast to our Rebuild of the wartime Colossus, the world's first semi-programmable electronic computer."

More than six decades of advancements in manufacturing sensors and developing innovative methods of joining dissimilar metals have led to smartphones that fit in the palm of the hand and boast more power than the WITCH ever could. Thermal management technologies allow us to have computers and tablets today handling tasks that the WITCH would have caught on fire for even attempting.

But, it is nonetheless a piece of modern computing history and is certainly awe-inspiring to behold.

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