Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) made its mark producing relatively low-cost, department-size computers. But even close industry watchers were surprised by DEC’s introduction of the PDP-8 in 1965.
For starters: at just 250 pounds, the PDP-8 was amazingly small for its time. It caused shockwaves through the industry, giving birth to an entirely new class of non-mainframe computers: the “mini-computer.” “Mini-computer” was catchy name and gave the PDP-8 an identity at a time when the mini-skirt was in fashion and miniscule cars like the mini-Cooper were all the rage. It was also surprisingly inexpensive: just $16,000 when released; subsequent versions could be had for as little as $5,000 by 1972.
The PDP-8e (pictured here) was also significant for its use of a system bus, which enabled customers to add new capabilities to the computer, without rewiring components.</p>The PDP-8 (and indeed all minicomputers) opened up computing to entirely new areas of application. PDP-8’s found uses as process controllers in manufacturing, in laboratory analysis, in hospitals to monitor medical equipment, and for small business record keeping. A PDP-8 was used to control the news display in Times Square; another, the scoreboard at Fenway Park. All told, DEC shipped some 50,000 PDP-8s. One DEC engineer called it the “Model T of computing.”