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Old Calculator Museum Advertising & Documentation Archive
Wang Laboratories 380 Programmer

Wang Laboratories 380 Programmable Keyboard/Display Unit Advertisement
Electronics Magazine, November, 1968

The Wang 380 was a keyboard/display unit that would operate with most Wang Laboratories 300-series calculator electronics packages. It provided programming capability significantly beyond that of the add-on punched card readers such as the Wang CP-1.

The 380 was introduced in March of 1968, as an attempt by Wang Laboratories to wring some liftime out of their 300-series electronic calculators, which by this time were becoming rather dated. With Hewlett Packard's announcement of their famous 9100A electronic calculator, Wang's 300-series calculators were no comparison, especially when it came to programmability. The 380 was a stop-gap measure to help sustain the 300-series sales while Wang Laboratories embarked on a crash effort to develop a new calculator to compete head-to-head with HP's 9100A and 9100B calculators. The result of Wang Labs' efforts was the Wang 700-series calculators.

The Wang 380 stored the keyboard-entered program steps onto a magnetic tape cartridge, very similar to an old 8-Track music cartridge, with an endless loop of magnetic tape inside. Varying lengths of tape cartridge were available from Wang Laboratories for varying-sizes of programs. The program step capacity of the 380 was limited only by the length of the tape in the cartridge. The 380 provided much of the same programming capabilities of the punched card-based Wang 370 programmer, but is not limited by the number of steps that can be punched on a punched card. The downside to the 380 as compared to the 370 is that the 380 is considerably slower than the 370, as when executing programs, it must read each step off the tape one at a time. When branches occur, the tape must be searched to find the destination of the branch, which can take considerable time. This makes any program that does a lot of decision-making or iterative operations execute slowly as compared to the 370, and much more slowly than the Hewlett Packard calcualtors, which stored user programs in very fast magnetic core memory. The tape is moved in only one direction, so if a branch points to a step that is located on the tape before the current instruction, the tape must be advanced all the way to the end and back to the referenced instruction (remember, the tape is a loop). Like the 370, the 380 could be connected to a wide range of peripherals including extended memory registers, a Teletype interface, Output Writer (Modified IBM Selectric Typewriter), I/O Writer(Modified IBM Selectric Typewriter), Cassette Tape Drive, and numerous other interfaces.

The 380 is similar inside to a regular Wang 300-series keyboard/display unit, using the same type of Nixie tube display, similar keyboard technology (but with many more keys for the programming operations). The cablet is larger, though, and has a small card-cage containing the logic that provides the programming functionality and interfaces the magnetic tape cartridge drive. As with the 300-series calculators, the circuitry uses discrete transistor technology.

The Old Calculator Wuseum currently has an operational Wang 380 Programmer, and work is in progress to document it in an exhibit in the online museum website.