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DEUCE: Glasgow’s first computer

The English Electric DEUCE, Glasgow’s first computer, although less powerful than hoped, became a useful adjunct to university research and industrial development. By today’s standards, the DEUCE was rather puny. Its speed and memory were similar to a microcomputer of the early 1980s. However, at almost  £60,000 in mid-50s money, its price was anything but tiny!

Deuce in labHousing the DEUCE was a problem. It needed a room 10 metres square, with air conditioning and a raised floor to protect it from flooding. Also, it was rather noisy so it couldn’t be located where it might irritate neighbours. Eventually, it was placed in the sub-basement of the Inorganic Chemistry Building, a windowless space previously used for storage.

The DEUCE began operation in November of 1958. It just missed being the first operational computer in Scotland. That honour went to another DEUCE which was installed about six months earlier at the National Engineering Laboratory in East Kilbride. At first, the University’s DEUCE was used to help chemists in analysing crystals. It was also used by local industries such as Barr & Stroud and J & P Coats. Within six months it was being run overnight.

The DEUCE proved a reliable computer, but its lack of power meant it didn’t have the capacity to meet all the demands placed on it. By 1961 it was decided to replace the DEUCE with another English Electric machine, the KDF9. The new machine had its official opening in 1964, displaying its prowess by building a crossword puzzle out of text from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Shortly thereafter, the DEUCE was finally switched off.