Titan (computer)

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Titan computer, 1965 Titan computer.jpg
Titan computer, 1965

Titan was the prototype of the Atlas 2 computer developed by Ferranti and the University of Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory in Cambridge, England. It was designed starting in 1963, and in operation from 1964 to 1973. [1]

Ferranti British electrical engineering company

Ferranti or Ferranti International plc was a UK electrical engineering and equipment firm that operated for over a century from 1885 until it went bankrupt in 1993. The company was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.

Cambridge City and non-metropolitan district in England

Cambridge is a university city and the county town of Cambridgeshire, England, on the River Cam approximately 50 miles (80 km) north of London. At the United Kingdom Census 2011, its population was 123,867 including 24,506 students. Cambridge became an important trading centre during the Roman and Viking ages, and there is archaeological evidence of settlement in the area as early as the Bronze Age. The first town charters were granted in the 12th century, although modern city status was not officially conferred until 1951.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north-northwest. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea lies to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.



In 1961, the University of Cambridge found itself unable to fund a suitably powerful computer for its needs at the time, so the University purchased from Ferranti the main Atlas processing units and then jointly designed the memory and peripheral equipment. [2] The joint effort led to a cheaper and simpler version of the Atlas that Ferranti could market, leaving Cambridge with the prototype version, named Titan. [2]

University of Cambridge University in Cambridge, England, United Kingdom

The University of Cambridge is a collegiate public research university in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Founded in 1209 and granted a Royal Charter by King Henry III in 1231, Cambridge is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world's fourth-oldest surviving university. The university grew out of an association of scholars who left the University of Oxford after a dispute with the townspeople. The two 'ancient universities' share many common features and are often referred to jointly as 'Oxbridge'. The history and influence of the University of Cambridge has made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

The Atlas hardware arrived in Cambridge in 1963, although software design was already underway. [2] David Wheeler was in charge of the joint effort between the University and Ferranti. [2]

David Wheeler (computer scientist) British computer scientist

David John Wheeler FRS was a computer scientist and professor of computer science at the University of Cambridge.

In 1965 the Cambridge side of the team decided to add a time sharing facility for Titan, necessitating the acquisition of additional hardware. [2] When Titan came into full service in 1966, time sharing was available for all staff. [2] Titan was finally switched off in October 1973. [2]

Ferranti, by then a division of International Computers and Tabulators (ICT), marketed the Titan as the Atlas 2. [3] Although intended to be more affordable than the Atlas, its price was still over £1 million. [4] A second Atlas 2 was built in Manchester, and was installed at the Computer-Aided Design Centre (CADCentre) on Madingley Road together with the Cambridge Titan supervisor. This machine, the last Atlas, was finally switched off on 21 December 1976. [5]

International Computers and Tabulators

International Computers and Tabulators or ICT was formed in 1959 by a merger of the British Tabulating Machine Company (BTM) and Powers-Samas. In 1963 it also added the business computer divisions of Ferranti. It exported computers to many countries around the world and went on to become part of International Computers Limited (ICL).

Pound sterling official currency of the United Kingdom and other territories

The pound sterling, commonly known as the pound and less commonly referred to as sterling, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the British Antarctic Territory, and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence. A number of nations that do not use sterling also have currencies called the pound.

Madingley Road

Madingley Road is a major arterial road linking central Cambridge, England with Junction 13 of the M11 motorway. It passes by West Cambridge, a major new site where some University of Cambridge departments are being relocated.

A third Atlas 2 was ordered by the UK's Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) at Aldermaston. It replaced the faster but much more expensive IBM 7030 Stretch which had been leased from IBM. [6]

Atomic Weapons Establishment

The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) is responsible for the design, manufacture and support of warheads for the United Kingdom's nuclear weapons. It is the successor to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) with its main site on the former RAF Aldermaston and has major facilities at Burghfield, Blacknest and RNAD Coulport.

Aldermaston village in the United Kingdom

Aldermaston is a mostly rural, dispersed settlement, civil parish and electoral ward in Berkshire, England. In the United Kingdom Census 2011, the parish had a population of 1015. The village is in the south the mid-Kennet alluvial plain and bounds to the south Hampshire. It is roughly equidistant from Newbury, Basingstoke and Reading, centred 46 miles (74 km) west-by-south-west of London.

IBM 7030 Stretch first IBM supercomputer using dedicated transistors

The IBM 7030, also known as Stretch, was IBM's first transistorized supercomputer. It was the fastest computer in the world from 1961 until the first CDC 6600 became operational in 1964.


Titan differed from the original Manchester Atlas by having a real, but cached, main memory, rather than the paged (or virtual) memory used in the Manchester machine. It initially had 28K of memory, but this was expanded first to 64K and later to 128K. [2] The Titan's main memory had 128K of 48-bit words and was implemented using ferrite core store rather than the part core, part rotating drum-store used on the Manchester Atlas. [5] Titan also had two large hard-disk drives and several magnetic tape decks. [5]

As with the Manchester Atlas, it used discrete components, in particular germanium transistors. Some of these components can be seen in the online relics collection of the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. [7]


Titan was the computer on which a team from Ferranti based in Bracknell working with David Barron, David Hartley, Roger Needham and Barry Landy of Cambridge University Maths Lab developed the early multi-user time-sharing operating system called Titan Supervisor. This was arguably the world's first commercially sold time-sharing operating system. [1] [2] Other experiments in time-sharing, such as CTSS and PLATO in the US, were one-of-a-kind research projects.

One of Titan's most intensive uses was to compute the inverse Fourier Transforms of data from the One-Mile Radio Telescope. [5]

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  1. 1 2 "The Relics Project: Virtual exhibition". University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. 1999. Retrieved 22 April 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Lavington, Simon (6 December 2012). "The Atlas story" (PDF). Retrieved 1 December 2013.
  3. "Ferranti Computing Systems Atlas 2 Brochure". Ferranti. August 1963. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
  4. "Cambridge Atlas". Computing at Chilton: 1961-2003. August 1963. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Computing Futures Museum". Staffordshire University. Archived from the original on 15 November 2013. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
  6. "Atlas II Computer for Aldermaston". 1 November 1963. Retrieved 22 April 2011.
  7. "Relic Information for Titan". University of Cambridge. 1999. Retrieved 1 December 2013.