Introduction to Elliott 803

The Elliott 803 was first delivered in 1961. It was a large computer consisting of many separate units. It was one of the first computers that could be bought from a known manufacturer rather than having to built it yourself. It was a second generation computer, that is, it used transistors rather than glass valves. This made it smaller, faster and more powerful than earlier computers like the Colossus. The fast RAM memory is made from small magnetic rings or cores shaped like miniature doughnuts. This kind of memory is called core store. The Elliott 803 has has 16k core store RAM memory, which was a lot of memory for the period. You would need a million 16k core store units to provide the same memory as a single 16 giga-byte pen drive. This computer was used in business and in industry to control industrial processes in chemical factories or steel plants for example. It was a general purpose programmable computer.

Input and output was on punched paper tape.

Switching the computer on is more complicated than today. Electric power is switched on first and then on the control panel the large backup battery is turned on. Finally the computer itself can be turned on.

  • Introduction Pt 1

    Running time: 02:48

  • Introduction Pt 2

    Running time: 00:39

  • Elliott Start Up

    Running time: 01:16


Input and output was on punched paper tape for data or programs. The paper tape is read by tape readers that read the punched hole patterns in the tape and input this information into the computer.

  • Input and Output

    Running time: 00:22


Input and output was on punched paper tape for data or programs.

  • Input and Output

    Running time: 00:22


Magnetic tape was used to backup data in main store. The tapes were made from 35 mm movie film coated with a magnetic material to store binary data as 1 or 0. There was no quick access to stored data like today's hard drives: the tape is a serial medium and the tape has to be read in a linear fashion to find particular data. So if the data you wanted was in the middle of the long tape, you had to read through all the information before it to get to data you want. The tape readers that read the magnetic tape are large heavy units.

The RAM memory used small ferrite rings called cores. These were shaped like miniature doughnuts. There was one small core for each bit of date, a 1 or a 0. The cores were sewn together by hand in an array to make up the memory. The ferrite core could be magnetised by passing a pulse of electrical current through it, and this information could then be read back.

  • Storage

    Running time: 01:23

  • Storage Core Store

    Running time: 00:13


Elliott 803


The Elliott 803 uses transistors rather than glass valves. Consumer electronics was revolutionised in the 1960s when separate transistors in small metal cans replaced glass valves that had been used up to that time. Transistors were were smaller, cooler and more efficient, that is, they took much less power than valves performing the same functions

  • Transistors

    Running time: 00:22

User Interface

Elliott 803

Impact on Society

Elliott 803

Images of the Elliott 803

  • Elliott 803 control buttons

  • Elliott 803 storage tape

  • Elliott Computer - impact on Work

  • Magnetic core store was used to store data on the Elliott 803

  • Metal transistors replaced glass valves reducing the overall size of the system

  • The Elliott 803 tape reader inputs data to the computer