History and Design
The PDP-7 was initially conceived as a repackaged PDP-1 with higher module density and faster cycle times, with some of the goals for the new PDP-7 range to be a lower cost machine, but with greater performance than any of the earlier DEC computers. However when consideration was given to the range of PDP-1 and PDP-4 software, an additional goal of PDP-4 software compatibility was added to the design.
A sales target of 120 systems was set for the PDP-7 design, more than the total of all of the other computers DEC had built at that time, however it is not known if this target was ever met. Performance was increased fivefold with a machine cycle time reduction from 8uS to 1.5uS, that being limited by the core memory available at the time. The processor, memory and I/O sections were designed around the new B series System "FlipChip" modules, themselves based on earlier 10MHz system modules, and so the PDP-7 was born. After the first 50 systems were produced a design review reworked the I/O systems to use 2MHz R System boards, a design philosophy very much in keeping with the original PDP-1 computer.
Upward program compatibility with the PDP-4 was kept, but using the newly developed 8-bit ASCII code rather than 5-bit Baudot of the PDP-4, the user panel was relocated to the "side" of the cabinet from the "end" configuration of the PDP-4 allowing greater access for servicing. The PDP-7 computer was an assembly pioneer being the first DEC machine to use automatic wire wrapping for production, ironically using programs developed on a PDP-4.
Design of the PDP-7 cost less than $100,000, excluding modules and staff costs, from initial concept to first prototype (S#1). That process only took 9 months, starting in April 1964 with production units delivered in December 1964. The very first production unit (serial #3) went to Bell Labs, it being hand built by a DEC field service engineer.
Roughly half way through production of the PDP-7, the I/O system were reworked to use the lower cost and lower speed R System units, and was re-badged as the PDP-7/A and introduced in 1965. Thoughts then turned to the next computer in the 18-bit range, to be fully auto wired, better specified, have more memory, be cheaper and cure the "dirty" air cooling problems of the PDP-7. Initially called the PDP-7/X, it eventually became known as the PDP-9, the fourth in the range of 18-bit computers and was first shipped in August 1966.
For a more in depth review of the PDP-7 computer and its design process, see chapter 6 (page 147-153) of the 1978 DEC book "Computer Engineering - A DEC view of hardware systems design", by Gordon Bell, Craig Mudge and John McNamara, ISBN 09-3237-600-2. Available here, courtesy Microsoft Research.
A publication by Bob Supnik entitled "Architectural Evolution in DEC’s 18b Computers" is also available here (©2006 Bob Supnik).
If you know of any information about any of the PDP-7 systems worldwide, options, location of existing systems, spare parts, ancillary bits, software, tapes or manuals, then please contact us.