Datasaab wasn't created on purpose. The intention was never to build the best computers or even to construct computers which could be mass-produced or sold. A task more related to Saab was the cause -- the fighter Viggen.
Saab goes Sci-Fi
At the robotics division of Saab in the end of the 1950's they wanted to construct a navigational computer small enough to be placed inside an aircraft, something regarded as pure science-fiction at the time. Earlier they had constructed an automatic computer named SARA (the second automatic computer in Sweden after the state-owned BESK) in order to do the calculations needed for the construction of the fighter Draken. SARA used up the space of a large computer hall many hundred squaremeters (thousands of squarefeet) big. Now, however, the transistor had come into the picture, something which would make the task much easier for the Saab engineers. But the miniaturization by replacing all the vacuum tubes with transistors wasn't sufficient alone and the engineers were working hard to develop new techniques for packing both the transistors and other components closer together.
The efforts to make the computer smaller turned out to be very successful and the result was the, by the time, extremely small D2, presented in 1960. It could even be called a desktop computer as the 200 kg (450 lb) machine actually could be placed on bigger laboratory tables. The computer got its input from paper tape, much faster than puchcards. The D2 and the engineers at Saab were subject to much attention from both the military and civilan parties for this miniaturization.
Sara + Viggo Wentzel = D21
The director of Skandinaviska Elverk, a large electricity provider, suggested to connect the tape drive from SARA to the D2, something which was more or less an order for a computer. At Saab they didn't just do that. They reconstructed the D2 to a new computer, bigger and better than its precursor. It became the D21 and no. 1 was installed at Skandinaviska Elverk in 1962. D21 became Sweden's first mass-produced civilian automatic computer and around 30 were produced some of which were exported to Finland, Norway and Czechoslovakia. The D21 was used for many pioneer applications as the cutting of metal for ships, weather forecasts and the projecting of roads. The D21 used 24 bit words and had better performance than IBM's corresponding machines. ALGOLGENIUS, a combination of the programming language ALGOL60 and their own system for I/O, Genius, was employed for the construction of software.
In the early 1960's the Swedish government was in need of 20 computers for calculation of taxes. The choice stood between Saab and IBM and after a intense debate in the press, the minister of finance at the time split the order between the two competitors even though investigations showed that the machines from Saab were better than IBM's. Quite soon it was discovered that the Saab-machines were more effective and in 1969 the IBM computers were replaced by Saab's. The next large order after these tax-computers was the world's first and biggest terminalsystem for banks for the Nordic banks, a system which was employed in part until the 1980's.
A continuing success
Datasaab's next model, D22, was presented in 1966.That too was a 24 bit machine and compatible with D21. It had a memory capacity of maximum 786 432 bytes and was programmable with Cobol in addition to ALGOLGENIUS. It used the multitasking operating system MK-Dirigent and about 70 D22s were sold.
It continued in 1969 with the mini computer D5 which was the type used in the above mentioned order to the banks. Other mini computers developed were D15 and D16. D220, which was a development of the D22, came in 1970 and in 1971 the CK37 was finished and was the vison of the computer able to put in a plane made reality.CK37 was used in the fighter plane Viggen.
The soft computer and Intel
D23, the so called ''soft computer'', was presented in 1972. It was compatible with the D22 and used a new invention from Datasaab, the FCPU. FCPU stands for Flexible central processing unit and provided a number of benefits. The processor's microcode could easily be replaced (and thereby the designition ''soft computer'') and the different parts of the processor had its own clock which allowed several instructions to be carried out asynchronous without slowing down the other parts of the process. The FCPU was never patented by Saab, but by Intel in 1978 and the technology is used in all of Intel's processors in spite of that the principles for the asynchronous control were previously published by Harold Lawson and his collegues at Saab, a publication rewarded with the prize for the best scientific paper 1975.
A few years ago Intel sued the microprocessor-manufacturer UMC for violation of patent, at which UMC referred to Lawson's paper to claim that Intel's patent should never had been granted in the first place, but they later dropped the case.
A crash landing for Saab's computer project
The D23 became a economical flop. An order for two computers was issued by the Swedish army. These were seriously delayed and the D23 project was never followed out and Datasaab was sold to the American Sperry Univac in 1975. Since then it has been sold to here and there and been known as Ericsson Information Systems and Nokia Data. Today whats left of Datasaab is a part of ICL.
If you have anything to add to the above or if anything is erronous I would appreciate if you wrote to me about it, so that I can be added to this page.
Thanks to Dr Harold Lawson for informing me about the outcome of the case between UMC and Intel.
Last modified: Wed Feb 24 01:54:47 MET 1999