IBM 704

An IBM 704 computer at NACA in 1957
An IBM 704 computer, with IBM 727 tape drives and IBM 780 CRT display. (Image courtesy of LLNL.)

The IBM 704, introduced by IBM in 1954, was the first mass-produced computer with floating-point arithmetic hardware.[1] The IBM 704 Manual of operation states:[2]

The type 704 Electronic Data-Processing Machine is a large-scale, high-speed electronic calculator controlled by an internally stored program of the single address type.

The 704 at that time was thus regarded as "pretty much the only computer that could handle complex math."[3] The 704 was a significant improvement over the earlier IBM 701 in terms of architecture and implementation. Like the 701, the 704 used vacuum tube logic circuitry. Changes from the 701 included the use of core memory instead of Williams tubes and the addition of three index registers. To support these new features, the instructions were expanded to use the full 36-bit word. The new instruction set, which was not compatible with the 701, became the base for the "scientific architecture" subclass of the IBM 700/7000 series computers.

The 704 could execute up to 12,000 floating-point additions per second.[1] IBM sold 140 type 704 systems between 1955 and 1960.[4][5]


The programming languages FORTRAN[6] and LISP[7] were first developed for the 704.

MUSIC, the first computer music program, was developed on the IBM 704 by Max Mathews.

In 1962 physicist John Larry Kelly, Jr created one of the most famous moments in the history of Bell Labs by using an IBM 704 computer to synthesize speech. Kelly's voice recorder synthesizer vocoder recreated the song Daisy Bell, with musical accompaniment from Max Mathews. Arthur C. Clarke was coincidentally visiting friend and colleague John Pierce at the Bell Labs Murray Hill facility at the time of this speech synthesis demonstration, and Clarke was so impressed that six years later he used it in the climactic scene of his novel and screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey,[8] where the HAL 9000 computer sings the same song.[9]

Edward O. Thorp, a math instructor at MIT, used the IBM 704 as a research tool to investigate the probabilities of winning while developing his blackjack gaming theory.[10][11] He used FORTRAN to formulate the equations of his research model.

The IBM 704 was used as the official tracker for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Operation Moonwatch in the fall of 1957. See The M.I.T. Computation Center and Operation Moonwatch. IBM provided four staff scientists to aid Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory scientists and mathematicians in the calculation of satellite orbits: Dr. Giampiero Rossoni, Dr. John Greenstadt, Thomas Apple and Richard Hatch.


The IBM 704 had a 38-bit accumulator, a 36-bit multiplier quotient register, and three 15-bit index registers. The contents of the index registers were subtracted from the base address, so the index registers were also called "decrement registers". All three index registers could participate in an instruction: the three-bit tag field in the instruction was a bit map specifying which of the registers would participate in the operation. However, when more than one index register was selected, then their contents were or'ed not added together before the decrement took place. This behavior persisted in later Scientific Architecture machines (such as the IBM 709 and IBM 7090) until the IBM 7094. The IBM 7094, introduced in 1962, increased the number of index registers to seven and only selected one at a time; the "or" behavior remained available in a compatibility mode of the IBM 7094.[12]

Instruction and data formats

There were two instruction formats, referred to as "Type A" and "Type B".[13] Most instructions were of type B.

Type A instructions had, in sequence, a three bit prefix (instruction code), a 15-bit decrement field, a three-bit tag field, and a 15-bit address field. There were conditional jump operations based on the values in the index registers specified in the tag field. Some instructions also subtracted the decrement field from the contents of the index registers. The implementation required that the second two bits of the instruction code be non-zero, giving a total of six possible type A instructions. One (STR, instruction code binary 101) was not implemented until the IBM 709.

Type B instructions had, in sequence, a 12-bit instruction code (with the second and third bits set to 0 to distinguish them from type A instructions), a two-bit flag field, four unused bits, a three-bit tag field, and a 15-bit address field.

The instruction set implicitly subdivided the data format into the same fields as type A instructions: prefix, decrement, tag and address. Instructions existed to modify each of these fields in a data word without changing the remainder of the word though the Store Tag instruction was not implemented on the IBM 704. The original Lisp used the address and decrement fields to store, respectively, the head and tail of a linked list. The primitive functions car ("contents of the address part of register") and cdr ("contents of the decrement part of register") were named after these fields.[14] The term "register" in this context refers to "memory location".[15][16] The simplified explanation that car and cdr stand for "contents of the address register" and "contents of the decrement register"[17] does not match the IBM 704 architecture; the IBM 704 did not have a programmer-accessible address register and the three address modification registers were called "index registers" by IBM.

Memory and peripherals

Controls were included in the 704 for: one 711 Punched Card Reader, one 716 Alphabetic Printer, one 721 Punched Card Recorder, five 727 Magnetic Tape Units and one 753 Tape Control Unit, one 733 Magnetic Drum Reader and Recorder, and one 737 Magnetic Core Storage Unit.

The 704 itself came with a control console which had 36 assorted control switches or buttons and 36 data input switches, one for each bit in a register. The control console essentially allowed only setting the binary values of the registers with switches and seeing the binary state of the registers displayed in the pattern of many small neon tubes, appearing much like modern LEDs. For human interaction with the computer, programs would be entered on punched cards initially rather than at the console, and human-readable output would be directed to the printer.

The IBM 740 Cathode Ray Tube Output Recorder was also available, which was a 21-inch vector display with a very long phosphor persistence time of 20 seconds for human viewing, together with a 7-inch display receiving the same signal as the larger display but with a fast-decaying phosphor brightness designed to be photographed with an attached camera.[18]

The 737 Magnetic Core Storage Unit had 4,096 36-bit words, the equivalent of 18,432 bytes and served as RAM.[19] The 727 Magnetic Tape Units stored over five million six-bit characters per reel.

Further reading

See also


  1. 1 2 "704 Data Processing System". IBM Archives - Exhibits - IBM Mainframes - Mainframes reference room - Mainframes product profiles. IBM. Retrieved 2016-08-18.
  2. "IBM Electronic Data-Processing Machines TYPE 704". IBM 704 Manual of Operation. International Business Machines Corporation. January 1956. Retrieved 2016-08-18.
  3. Pesce, Mark (26 Feb 2015). "Assemblers were once people: My aunt did it for NASA". Software - Developer. The Register. Retrieved 2016-08-18.
  4. "IBM 704 Computer, LLNL, 1950s". Science Source. Retrieved 2016-08-18.
  5. Also possibly 123; comment suggests Amdahl, IEEE Computer, volume ?, issue?, date?, p 40.
  7. LISP Prehistory, John McCarthy, 1996
  8. Arthur C. Clarke online Biography
  9. Bell Labs: Where "HAL" First Spoke (Bell Labs Speech Synthesis website)
  10. Discovery channel documentary with interviews by Ed and Vivian Thorp
  11. Levinger, Jeff (February 10, 1961). "Math Instructor Programs Computor: Thorpe, 704 Beat Blackjack" (PDF). The Tech. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 81 (1): 1.
  12. IBM 7094 Principles of Operation (PDF), IBM Systems Reference Library (fifth ed.), IBM, 1962, p. 8, A22-6703-4
  13. John Savard. "From the IBM 704 to the IBM 7094". Retrieved 2009-11-15.
  14. McCarthy, John (1960). "Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and Their Computation by Machine, Part I". Retrieved 2009-02-14. p. 28.
  15. McCarthy (1960, pp. 2627) discusses registers on the free list and in garbage collection.
  16. McCarthy, John; Abrahams, Paul W.; Edwards, Daniel J.; Hart, Timothy P.; Levin, Michael I. (1985), LISP 1.5 Programmer's Manual (second ed.), Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-13011-4, page 36, describes cons cells as words with 15-bit "address" and "decrement" fields.
  17. See, for example, Mitchell, John C. (2003), Concepts in Programming Languages, Cambridge University Press, pp. 2829, ISBN 9781139433488, Section 3.4, Innovations in the Design of Lisp. The reference identifies the IBM 704 and correctly explains the address and decrement part of a cons cell, but then it omits the "part of" in McCarthy's explanation.
  18. "IBM Archives: 704 Cathode Ray Tube Output Recorder". Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  19. "IBM Archives: IBM 737 Magnetic core storage unit". Retrieved 10 December 2012.

External links

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