Collectors - Computers, ABC episode 14 2010

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With the ever increasing desire for more giga or terabytes of memory, it seems surprising that anyone would want redundant computers from a bygone era. Max Burnet does, and has determinedly salvaged many odd-looking old computers over the 40 years he has been collecting. Max worked with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and, through an ingenious system of offering customers 10% discount for trade-ins, not only saved many computers from the scrap-heap, but created a significant museum to boot. Max tells us that prior to the 1980s computers were so huge they could fill a lounge-sized room. The breakthrough in diminishing their size came when integrated circuits were invented. Suddenly thousands of transistors were replaced by a tiny chip the size of a fingernail. DEC, which invented one of Max's favourite computers, the mini computer, also made his second favourite. It is a 1965, 8kb memory computer that has a millionth of the memory that an 8GB flash drive has that can be bought for $30. Some of Max's computers are "superstars". He proudly lent a PDB9 computer that originally came out of the Parkes observatory to the producers of the movie Dish, after they asked him if he had one. One of Max's favourite pieces of equipment is a 1920s totalisator, an astonishing piece of technology which still works as well as it did 80 years ago when the machines were used at race courses around Australia. Another great piece of technology was the Sydney-built Microbee which was used in every Australian primary school from 1979. Its success was that every child of school age had a chance to use a computer. Max believes his museum has one of the world's best collections of old computers. If this is not true then he has 100 tons of scrap metal. Only time will tell.