Ferranti Argus 600 system

Ferranti's Argus computers were a line of industrial control computers offered from the 1960s into the 1980s. They were widely used in a variety of roles in Europe, particularly in the UK where they continue to serve as monitoring and control systems for nuclear reactors.

The Argus 500, designed about 3 years later, used parallel arithmetic and was much faster. It was designed to be plugged into a larger 19 inch rack mounted frame, together with up to four core store (memory) units. The Argus 400 was repackaged to be the same as the Argus 500 and the two machines were plug compatible. The Argus 400 used 18 small PCBs for its CPU each of which was wire-wrapped to the backplane using 70 miniature wire wraps. Removing a card was tedious. The Argus 500 initially used the same packages, and also wire-wrap, on larger boards, but later versions employed dual-in-line ICs which were soldered flat onto the PCB and were much easier to remove.

Like the earlier designs, the 400 and 500 used the same 14-bit address space and 24-bit instruction set and were compatible. The 500 added new instructions that used three-bits of the accumulator for offset indexing as well. Both machines ran at a 4 MHz basic clock cycle, much faster than the earlier machines' 500 kHz. Both used core memory which was available in two cycle times, The Argus 400 used a 2 μs core whereas the Argus 500 had 2 μs in earlier machines and 1 μs for later ones, doubling performance. The difference between the 400 and 500 was similar to the split between the 100 and 300, in that the 500 had a parallel ALU and the 400 was serial. The Argus 400 had an add time (two 24 bit numbers of 12 μs. The Argus 500 (with 1 μs store) took 3 μs. Divide (the longest instruction) took 156 μs on the Argus 400 and the Argus 500 took 9 μs. The Argus 500 was of course much more expensive. Typical Argus 500 installations were chemical plants (process control) and nuclear power stations (process monitoring). A later application was for Police Command and Control installations, one of the more famous ones being for Strathclyde Police in Glasgow. This system provided the first visual display of resource locations using maps provided by 35mm slide projectors projecting through a port-hole in the tube of the VDU screen.

6 page illustrated leaflet dated January 1970. Ref: ASD.32

We are extremely grateful to both Dawn and Kim Wakefield for the kind donation of the collection of their late father Richard Wakefield


Date : January 1970

Creator : Ferranti

This exhibit has a reference ID of CH15594. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

Scan of Document: Ferranti Argus 600 system

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