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This device shows what MAME is really about - the preservation of technology for the generations to come.

Short Summary about the Hardware

Short Excerp from the PDP-1 Restoration project::

PDP-1 in all its glory
PDP-1 in all its glory

The launch of Digital Equipment Corporation’s PDP-1 (Programmed Data Processor-1) computer in 1959 marked a radical shift in the philosophy of computer design.

Though the PDP-1 was produced in relatively small quantities (about 50), its impact was significant. For DEC it was the first in a long line of computers that focused on interactivity and affordability, changing the industry forever by foreshadowing what would become an entirely new class of computer: the “minicomputer.” By the mid 1960s, the minicomputer industry would flourish, allowing more people access to computers than ever before and leading directly to the development of important new operating systems and interfaces.

As the world's first commercial interactive computer, the PDP-1 was also used for process control, scientific research and graphics applications as well as to pioneer timesharing systems. The PDP-1 also made it possible for smaller businesses and laboratories to have access to much more computing power than ever before.

For the user, the PDP-1 represented an unprecedented freedom of human-machine interaction, spurring the creation of hacker culture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Bolt Beranek and Newman (BB&N) and elsewhere. Inspired programmers would soon create early debugging, text editing, music and game programs, including the first computer video game, Spacewar!

continnue reading on Restoration Project Introductory Page

How to run PDP-1 in Mame

To emulate the pdp-1 you can start mame with

mame pdp1

Opposiite to many other later devices, the PDP-1 did not contain any software that could be loaded as a Firmware.

But you want to do something with the device, so first you will need some software - in 1951 though there were no magnetic disks available so the only media we have is paper. So called Paper Tape

Loading from Paper Tape
Loading from Paper Tape

Watch How the PDP-1 loads the tape to play some music (like it did in 1963)!

Since it is a very low probability that you got a real papertape reader, or even one that can be connected to a modern PC here will link you my Archive of currently available Papertapes as a digital archive for MAME (simply place it in a rompath diredtory referenced in mame.ini) PDP1 Softwarelist Archive (7z)

Basic MAME keyboard shortcuts for DEC PDP-1

Useful Keyboard Shortcuts

[MAME Documentation Default Keyboard Layout]

While using MAME it is always good to have these ready, note that inside the emulation the keys are not recognised by Mame until you enable UI mode (default on <Scroll Lk> )!

Keyboard Shortcuts (There are plenty more, read the docs)
Key Description (UI enabled Mode!)
<Scroll Lock> Switch UI enabled/disabled
<ESC> Exit Mame
<F3> Soft Reset
<TAB> Open/Close Mame Menu
P Pause Emulation
Key Important Switches
<CTRL><ENTER> Trigger Loading from Papertape

Start programs from softwarelist

Now that you got the prerequisites (Softwarelist Archive and MAME itself are the only two things needd for this) you are ready to enjoy the technology!, plus the knowledge how to control MAME while running

There are two paths you can walk now:

Path 1 use the Commandline, Luke!

As an example let us start the classic Spacewar:

mame pdp1 spacewar

MAME will greet you now with the pdp-1 control panel board and its screen:

PDP-1 with Spacewar Tape ready to start!
PDP-1 with Spacewar Tape ready to start!

Now that MAME greets you with this screen, you can trigger the Paperpunch Reader to let it input the tape into the machine with pressing <CTRL><ENTER>

Congratulations now you are running Spacewar on the PDP-1 ! You can play it now (to see/change keyboard enter the secion in the MAME Menu while UI Mode is enabled)

Path 2 walk throigh the MAME Menu structure

To follow this path, you simply start MAME and then you will have do the following steps:

  1. Start MAME
  2. Scroll to pdp1 (or enter pdp1 to make a quick jump to the entry) and start the device here
  3. Enable UI Mode (Default Key <Scroll Lock>
  4. Open MAME Menu (Default Key <TAB>)
  5. Enter File Manager
  6. Select punchtap1 device
  7. Select Softwarelist
  8. Enter PDP-1 Paper Tape Reader Images
  9. Select Spacewar!
  10. Close MAME Menu with pressing 2 times <ESC> (pressing a third time will close MAME in UI enabled mode)
  11. Trigger Reading the Tape by Pressing <CTRL><ENTER>

Congratulations now you are running Spacewar on the PDP-1 ! You can play it now (to see/change keyboard enter the secion in the MAME Menu while UI Mode is enabled)

Spacewar! has been started and can be played now - enjoy!
Spacewar! has been started and can be played now - enjoy!

NOTE: After Starting the Paper Tape Reader you will see a lot of lights blinking on the control panel - after a few moments you will see the game screen appearing with two ships that are flying around a gravity well

Of course instead of running spacewar you can also check the other remaining entries in the softwarelist, as you got all available paperetapes for the pdp-1 in the linked archive. If you want mor, just use your preferred search engine to look up information about manuals and additional paper tape files. Chances are good that you can at least start them, though chances are high that the MAME emulation is missing something to emulate them perfectly.


Restoration project::

Chess on PDP-1

English Wikipedia entry

Bitsavers PDP-1 Repository