InfoWorld's Hardware Hall of Fame
There's a special place reserved for the stalwart hardware that many of us have depended on day after day, year after year. Or at least, we believe there should be a special place -- which is why we present you with the InfoWorld Hardware Hall of Fame. (Find out how we selected the inductees for the InfoWorld Hardware Hall of Fame.)
IBM System/360 mainframe (1964)
In the early 1960s, IBM bet the company on the 360, and ended up with a product line that more than any other popularized the use of computers in business. You can't beat the IBM System/360 mainframe for longevity -- some are still running. At the 40th birthday party for the 360 in 2004, Fred Brooks, who led the machine's development, credited its success to OS/360, "the first industrial-strength, 24/7 operating system." The 360 -- and its descendant the 370, introduced in 1970 -- so dominated the mainframe market that IBM and its competitors were referred to as "IBM and the Seven Dwarfs" (Burroughs, Control Data, General Electric, Honeywell, NCR, RCA, and UNIVAC).
Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-11 (1970)
This venerable line of minicomputers went through many permutations from its introduction in 1970 until its end-of-life 1997. The first PDP-11 was a 16-bit machine that replaced the popular PDP-8 and introduced a new Macro-11 assembly language that found favor with programmers. A decade later those early models were still favorites in educational institutions, due in part to the PDP-11's ability to emulate different systems. The PDP-11 declined in the 1980s, running up against its 16-bit limit as the cost of large memory fell.
Digital Equipment Corp. VAX (1977)
The 32-bit successor to the DEC's PDP-11, the VAX line helped solidify DEC's position as the top minicomputer vendor. The name derived from Virtual Address Extension, in part because VAX was one of the first minicomputer architectures to use virtual memory. The VAX 11/780 introduced in 1977 was a 1-MIPS unit; dozens of iterations followed until VAX gave way to its DEC AlphaServer successors in the 1990s. In 1998 DEC was bought by Compaq, which in turn was bought by HP in 2001. The HP website says the company will "continue to offer OpenVMS VAX support at least through the year 2010."
IBM PC/AT (1984)
What? No IBM PC or XT? Yes, we know those systems began the PC era. But the pace of change was so fast back then, and the power of Intel 8088 and 8086 processors was so slight, that the more muscular Intel 80286 made "plain PCs" obsolete almost overnight. The AT's memory, for example, topped out at 16MB as opposed to the PC's toylike 640K. The first model debuted at 6 MHz, but an 8 MHz model quickly followed. The AT was discontinued in 1990, four years into the Intel 80386 era.
Compaq Deskpro 386 (1986)
In 1986, it was Compaq, not IBM, that introduced the first 386 desktop computer. A year later IBM switched gears and introduced its disastrous PS/2 line of desktop PCs, which threw Compaq a big chunk of market share. We recall those solidly built Deskpro 386s running well into the 1990s.
Okidata Microline 100/200/300 series (1987)
Back when dot-matrix printers were king, the 9-pin Okidata Microline series ruled the office. InfoWorld contributor Brian Chee thinks Microline must be "the longest lasting dot matrix printer line in history," while contributor Roger Grimes suggests it should get an award for "hardware product of the quarter century." Wherever people still need to print multi-part forms, there's a good chance you'll hear a Microline whining away.
IBM AS/400 (1988)
The AS/400 moniker covered a wide range of minicomputers, from the early tower system pictured here to mainframe-size behemoths. The first models, introduced in 1988, were designed to replace IBM's earlier System/36 and System/38 lines. By 1997, IBM had sold half a million of them, making AS/400 one of the most popular "midrange" business computers ever made. The AS/400 line had a long run, ending in 2000 with a name change to iSeries, but many early-vintage AS/400s are still in operation today.
LaserJet 4 (1992)
HP has dominated laser printing from the start -- and no laser printer had a longer run that the LaserJet 4. Its Canon EX engine, which delivered eight pages per minute at 600 ppi, was practically indestructible. Customers frequently reported a lifespan of a decade or more with very little cleaning or maintenance.
IBM ThinkPad (1992)
Other laptops have come and gone, but the IBM ThinkPad line continues to soldier on 17 years later, sporting its trademark flat-black shell and red TrackPoint pointing device. The inaugural 700 series ThinkPads unveiled in 1992 had an Intel 80486 CPU and were among the first laptops to feature a relatively large color LCD screen. Known for their sturdy construction and long battery life, ThinkPads remain the desktop replacement laptops of choice in many businesses. In 2005, Chinese manufacturer Lenovo purchased IBM's PC division, but a predicted decline in ThinkPad quality never materialized.
Iomega Zip Drive (1994)
The Zip drive did more to popularize removable storage than any other device. The original drive was introduced in 1994 with 100MB cartridges the size of 3 1/2-inch floppies; it replaced Iomega's groundbreaking but less popular Bernoulli Box, which used 5 1/4-inch cartridges (the most popular cartridges held only 20MB). When CD-RW got up to speed in the late 1990s, Zip drives became obsolete, but the occasional Zip cartridge still turns up in the back of desk drawers today.
Cisco PIX 515 (1995)
It's been a long time since Cisco acquired Network Translation and pushed PIX (Private Internet Exchange) into the limelight, which helped popularize NAT (network address translation) and eliminated the worry that the world would run out of IP addresses. As the standard-bearer of Cisco's network security strategy for the better part of a decade, the PIX line was replaced by Cisco's ASA security appliances, which are bigger, better, and faster. Many original PIX 515s are still running, sporting 233-MHz Pentium II CPUs and 32MB of RAM.
US Robotics PalmPilot (1996)
The first broadly popular PDA, the PalmPilot arrived with a passive black-and-white LCD, either 128K or 512K of RAM, and a distinctive four-button layout dedicated to personal information management. The primary innovation was the Graffiti handwriting recognition system, which enabled users to enter (slightly modified) characters with a stylus directly on the LCD. A legal challenge forced Pilot to be dropped from the name, but over the years, a large ecosystem of inexpensive applications grew up around the Palm, helping it maintain long-running dominance in a fast-moving PDA market.
Apple Power Mac G3 (1997)
In the mid-1990s, Apple seemed doomed to die, after a series of awkward management changes, lackluster products, and a sense of having lost out to Windows. In November 1997, just two months after Steve Jobs regained control of the company, Apple released its Power Mac G3, a tower system that re-established its rep as a leading computer maker and used a new, more-competitive IBM chip. Even today, Power Mac G3s are easy to find in use as workhorse systems, given their strong reliability and an engine that can run Mac OS X well even though that next-gen OS didn’t exist when the G3 was designed. Sure, Apple has delivered many faster, more capable systems in the intervening 12 years, but the G3 remains well entrenched.
Sun Ultra Enterprise 10000 Starfire (1997)
The big iron of Web servers, the Ultra Enterprise 10000 Starfire put muscle behind the Sun "dot in dot com" slogan of the boom era. It could be configured with up to 64 UltraSparc II processors and boasted a memory bus whose fault-tolerant design originated in Cray Research's Business Systems Division. A fully configured system sold for over $1 million and provided plenty of headroom to last until the dot-com bust.
Apple PowerBook G3 (1998)
Apple has long touted its laptops as the top performing notebooks regardless of OS. The second-generation PowerBook G3 (the so-called Wallstreet design), released in March 1998, continued that mantle while ushering in a lightweight, curvy design that moved laptops away from the then-entrenched squared-off IBM ThinkPad aesthetic. Two subsequent variations -- the Wallstreet II design of August 1998 and the Lombard design of May 1999 -- continued to push the lighter and thinner envelope while boosting battery life. For the Mac community, the second-generation PowerBook G3 marked the shift from the desktop to the laptop as the primary computer, and arguably pushed PC laptops along the same path. These PowerBook G3s remained in use for nearly a decade.
Cisco Catalyst 6509 (1999)
Ask just about any network admin what the mainstay of a large corporate LAN is, and they'll answer the Cisco 6509. At a decade old, original 6509s can still be found in datacenters the world over, doing everything from large port aggregation to operating as the core of enormous switched networks. Options abound with firewalling, WAN, IDS, VoIP, PoE, gigabit copper, fiber, and 10G support. In many cases, original 6509 chassis have had significant performance and feature upgrades without ever leaving the rack, thanks to the highly expandable nature of the design. It's the big switch that could, and still does.
HP ProLiant DL360 G2 (2003)
HP's DL360 line of 1U rackmount servers became ubiquitous shortly after their release. They offered a big bang for the buck and a small package. Through the years, the DL360 has been called into service for every possible application, from virtualization to Citrix farms. Armed with the very stable and easily managed SmartArray RAID controller and a wide variety of possible configurations, they became the Swiss Army knife of modern IT.
Dell PowerEdge 2800 (2005)
Here's another server that’s still performing exceptionally well. A typical Dell PowerEdge 2800 was equipped with two single-core 3.6Ghz Intel Xeon CPUs, 8GB of RAM, and four 146GB U320 SCSI drives in a RAID5 array. According to InfoWorld contributor Paul Venezia, his "PowerEdge 2800 continues to perform key tasks with aplomb more than three years after it first made its appearance in the lab."
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