The historical significance of DEC and the PDP-7, 8, 11 and VAX

Source: OSNews

Article note: We need more of this kind of thing in at least CompE curricula, and I'd assert CS curricula as well even though it would make the theoreticians cry. I always inject some history when I can and get a chorus of "Oh, that makes sense now"s. Talking about the history of things is talking about the how and why of current practices. Exposing students to that would go a long way to damp both hanging on to bad assumptions (hint: modern performance analysis has little to do with operation counts and a lot to do with memory access patterns) and design fads that have been oscillating between extremes for 60 years.

Liam Proven posted a good summary of the importance of the PDP and VAX series of computers on his blog.

Earlier today, I saw a link on the ClassicCmp.org mailing list to a project to re-implement the DEC VAX CPU on an FPGA. It’s entitled “First new vax in …30 years?”

Someone posted it on Hackernews. One of the comments said, roughly, that they didn’t see the significance and could someone “explain it like I’m a Computer Science undergrad.” This is my attempt to reply…

Um. Now I feel like I’m 106 instead of “just” 53.

OK, so, basically all modern mass-market OSes of any significance derive in some way from 2 historical minicomputer families… and both were from the same company.

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