The forgotten computer

IBM today celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Stretch supercomputer – a machine that was not a commercial success in its era, but helped revolutionise the computer industry by pioneering technologies that power everything from today’s laptops and iPods to the world’s largest supercomputers.

The Stretch computer was IBM’s audacious 50s-era gamble to create a monster computer, 100 times faster than an IBM supercomputer of the day called the 704. When introduced, it was considered a failure, only 30 to 40 times faster than other systems. Less than 10 were built and the project was shelved.

But the story doesn’t end there. Stretch was packed with technology breakthroughs that have helped form the foundation of modern computing, including multiprogramming, pipelining, and memory protection and interleaving.

Following the demise of Stretch, they found a home in IBM’s next big project – the successful System/360 mainframe – and from there entered the wider world of mainstream computing.

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