Friday, 3. June 2016

The ECHO IV Home Computer: 50 Years Later

This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of a home computer built and operated more than a decade before ‘official’ home computers arrived on the scene. Yes, before the ‘trinity’ of the Apple II, the Commodore PET and the Radio Shack TRS-80–all introduced in 1977—Jim Sutherland, a quiet engineer and family man in Pittsburgh, was building a computer system on his own for his family. Sutherland configured this new computer system to control many aspects of his home with his wife and children as active users. It truly was a home computer—that is, the house itself was part of the computer and its use was integrated into the family’s daily routines.

The System

Sutherland’s computer was called the ECHO IV – the Electronic Computing Home Operator. ECHO IV comprised four large (6’ x 2’ x 6’) cabinets weighing approximately 800 lbs and included a central processing unit (CPU) constructed from surplus circuit modules from a Westinghouse Prodac-IV industrial process control computer; magnetic core memory, I/O circuitry and power supplies. With the permission of his employer, Westinghouse, Sutherland took these modules home and designed and built the ECHO IV in less than a year.

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