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GE 225 vs. IBM 1401

probable main competition for GE 225

Early development - April 3, 2006

Competitive situation:

An indication of complexity:

General Electric Computer Department of course did not live in a competitive vacuum. The history of computers gets complex after about 1955 - lots of manufacturers and lots of models. For a view of this complexity you may examine A Survey of Domestic Electronic Digital Computing Systems BALLISTIC RESEARCH LABORATORIES, REPORT NO. 971, DECEMBER 1955
By 1960 the complexity was mind boggling - see A Survey of Domestic Electronic Digital Computing Systems Report No. 1115, March 1961. For example, Philco offered the 1000, 2000,3000, and CXPQ. RCA offered the 110,200,300,301,501,601 and Burroughs offered 16 different models. By then, the main vendor/target was IBM with the 305 RAMAC, 604, 607, 608, 609, 610, 632, 650 with RAMAC option, 701, 702, 704, 705 I&II&III, 709, 1401, 1410, 1620, 7070, 7074, 7080, 7090 and STRETCH in the field.

G.E. 225 v.s. IBM 1401

However, G.E.'s 225 mainly compteted with the IBM 1401 on the low end as I saw it. With a card reader (such as it was), printer, and magnetic tapes it's price tag made it an obvious challenge to the 1401, and the 225's much superior ability to handle simultaneous I/O promised much greater data throughput.

Item G.E. 225 IBM 1401
memory size (basic) 8 K words
24 K characters
4 K characters
memory size (max) 16 K words
48 K char
16 K characters
characters/inst 3 avg 4 avg
memory fetch 20 bit word 7 bit word
extra parity bit yes yes
adder mode binary bcd
hardware floating point option yes no
concurent compute and I/O yes no
- later modified to painful

The 1401 stopped doing anything during an input/output operation. It could either

- read a card
- punch a card
- write a line to the printer
- read or write to a magnetic tape drive
- compute
the G.E. 225 could do all of the above concurrently - and there was a program able to do exactly that - the operator using the 20 switches of the front panel to control operations. A decided competitive advantage in theory. (IBM was reacting by redesigning the 1401 to handle I/O more concurrently - but in a much clumsier way.)

Peripherals - initial - about 1962

- G.E. designed/made all its peripheral controllers - All OK except for printer which was Poor
item Manufacturer
speed GE
GE estimated quality
- operation
speed IBM
IBM estimated quality
- operation
Card readerElliott
400/min -
- very bad
- excellent
Card punchIBM (714)
- Good
Excellent (IBM)
- Good
Printer Analex
- Poor
"gold standard"
- Excellent
Mag tapesAmpex
200char/in -
60,000 char/sec
poor to OK
- Ok
Very good
- Good
Magnetic disk? - OEM?
150,000,000 char
OK for period
Document Handler
(process bank checks)
state of art
- quite good
Digital serial data
(teletypes and modems)
G.E DN-15 (15 channels)
10 char/sec

The G.E. 225 was also entering the banking business in a big way, with the earlier produced and successful ERMA system for the Bank of America giving much credibility. (The much more expensive G.E. 210 offered earlier - resembling the earlier produced ERMA for the Bank of America, was selling poorly, and about to be withdrawn from further order taking.)

For example, in Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia National Bank and the Pittsburgh Nation Bank had G.E. 225s with associated OEMed Potter document handlers and Ampex tape drives. These installations were doing quite well. The installation at the Wisconsin National Bank was complaining a lot and had lots of management attention. I never did determine if the customer was being difficult or demanding or what?

In the early 1960s, the G.E. equipment was in over 1/3 of the automated banks in the U.S. (One may note that the Elliott card reader was not used for data input in this application.)

Apparently, the later G.E. 400 series was unsuccessful in this market. I had heard that there was a technical problem (interrupt response to the document handler for pocket selection). Others say that was not the problem. What ever the problem, banks were no longer buying G.E. computing equipment.

Software on the G.E. 625 and 635 (specifically excluding the special capabilities of the 645)

GECOS - The General Electric operating system running on the 600 series was "state of the art" and well ahead of IBM for years. Its servicing of a job stream and concurrently operating multiple peripherals was relatively early in the industry, efficient, and stable.

In headquarters Phoenix, at at customer sites, remote job entry via teletype, print out from print queue (and associated delivery by employees to stations on delivery route).

At this time, the best IBM had to offer was to link a separate computer (?1440?) running HASP to do the multi-job printing - other than that, most large IBM installations output to tape and did off-line tape to print via a 1401.