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The LINC (Laboratory INstrument Computer) was a 12-bit, 2048-word computer. The LINC can be considered the first minicomputer and a forerunner to the personal computer.[1]

The LINC and other "MIT Group", Linc Computer (its first name [2] in the museum opened by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1980 [3] before DEC joined production effort[4]) machines were designed at MIT and eventually built by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and the Spear Inc. of Waltham, MA. (later a division of Becton Dickinson and Company) [4] The LINC sold for more than $40,000 at the time. A typical configuration included an enclosed 6'X20" rack, four boxes holding tape drives, a small display, a control panel, and a keyboard.

Although its instruction set was small, it was larger than the tiny PDP-8 instruction set.

It interfaced well with laboratory experiments. Analog inputs and outputs were part of the basic design. It was designed in 1962 by Charles Molnar and Wesley Clark at Lincoln Laboratory, Massachusetts [5]), for NIH researchers. The LINC's design was literally in the public domain, perhaps making it unique in the history of computers. The number of LINCs and who built them is a minor subject of debate in the 12-bit-word community. One account states 24 LINC computers were assembled in a summer workshop at MIT. Digital Equipment Corporation (starting in 1964) and Spear Inc. of Waltham, MA. [6] manufactured them commercially.

DEC's pioneer C. Gordon Bell[7] states that the LINC project began in 1961, with first delivery in March, 1962, and the machine was not formally withdrawn until December, 1969. A total of 50 were built (all using DEC System Module Blocks and cabinets), most at Lincoln Labs, housing the desktop instruments in four wooden racks. The first LINC included two oscilloscope displays. Twenty one were sold by DEC at $43,600, delivered in the Production Model design. In these, the tall cabinet sitting behind a white-Formica-covered table held two somewhat smaller metal boxes holding the same instrumentation, a Tektronix display oscilloscope over the "front panel" on the user's left, a bay for interfaces over two LINC-Tape drives on the user's right, and a chunky keyboard between them. The standard program development software (an assembler/editor) was designed by Mary Allen Wilkes; the last version was named LAP6 (LINC Assembly Program 6).

The control panel

The LINC control panel was used for single-stepping through programs and for program debugging. Execution could be stopped when the program counter matched a set of switches. Another function allowed execution to be stopped when a particular address was accessed. The single-step and the resume functions could be automatically repeated. The repetition rate could be varied over four orders of magnitude by means of an analog knob and a four-position decade switch, from about one step per second to about half of the full speed. Running a program at one step per second and gradually accelerating it to full speed provided an extremely dramatic way to experience and appreciate the speed of the computer.

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