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BESK

From Academic Kids

BESK (Binär Elektronisk SekvensKalkylator, Swedish for "Binary Electronic Sequence Calculator") was Sweden's first computer. It was developed by Matematikmaskinnämnden and during a short time it was the fastest computer in the world. The computer was completed in 1953. The technology behind BESK was later continued with FACIT EDB. A copy of BESK called SMIL was made for the University of Lund. A copy of BESK was also made in Denmark and called DASK.

The team was led by Stig Comét. The hardware was developed by Erik Stemme. Gösta Neovius and Olle Karlqvist was responsible for architecture and instruction set.

Originally BESK had a British Williams tube memory with 40 cathode tubes. The memory was soon found to be insufficent and Carl-Ivar Bergman was given just a few weeks to build and install a ferrite core memory. To get finished before the deadline they hired housewives with knitting experience to make the memory. One of the new memory bits didn't work at first, but it was easily cut out and replaced. The first calculations was done on April 1 1954 and BESK handled weather data for SMHI, statistics for Televerket, wing profiles for Saab Lansen and road profiles for Vägverket. During the nights FRA used BESK for decryption of radio messages. BESK was also used for calculations for the Swedish nuclear weapons program, but most calculations was done by SMIL. In 1957 Hans Riesel used BESK to discover a Mersenne prime with 969 digits - the largest prime known at the time.

BESK was developed by Matematikmaskinnämnen at the same time as BARK.

SAAB rented computer time on the BESK to (probably, much was secret) make calculations of the strength of the Saab Lansen. On fall 1955 SAAB thought the capacity was insufficent and started working on SARA (SAABSs räkneautomat (SAAB's calculating machine)) that was going to be twice as fast as BESK. Some former BESK employees went to Facit and worked with the Facit EDB.

Trivia: "Besk" is Swedish for the taste "bitter".

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