alpha test

IBM Product Test

IBM Product Test was a group level organization for testing of IBM hardware and software products as part of the product development (i.e. not manufacturing) process. It was housed in a number of laboratories associated with the various manufacturing and software development facilities.

As an independent organization, Group Product Test had much power and exercised strict control over product quality. Ultimately, however, its contribution to the bottom line could not be quantified, and it was disbanded in 197?.

Types of testing

Two types of test were performed:

  1. A- or Alpha-test
  2. B- or Beta-test

The A and B tests were hardware tests and the others were software tests

A- or Alpha-testing

These were design and feasibility tests, carried out prior to announcement. In some cases, software modelling was used to estimate performance.


  • A tape loop device: The device was a sort of tape drive, where the magnetic tape was in the form of a loop about 10 cm (4 in) wide and 30 cm (12 in) in circumference. A number of loops were in a storage array and could be brought singly into a read/write chamber, expanded and spun up, then stopped and returned to the array. The model shop constructed a mock-up powered by the suction of a number of household vacuum cleaners! This was used to test the mechanical aspects of the proposed device.

B- or Beta-testing

These tests were carried out to support a First Customer Ship (FCS) date for software, or a commit to manufacturing for hardware.


  • Magnetic tape and tape drives: A test program had been written to perform testing of tape drives and tapes. A complicated series of operations were performed simultaneously on a number of tape reels on a bank of tape drives, with a well defined rotation pattern of reels to different drives forming a Graeco-Latin square test pattern. This allowed statistical evaluation of errors to identify defective tapes or malfunctioning drives.
  • 057 Alphabetic Interpreter: Cards punched by computer usually did not show the data in printed form. This unit record device printed the contents on such punched cards. The test was to detect the consistency of registration of the printed information by running cards through the machine several times and manual inspection of the results. All printing should be precisely overstruck. Inspection using a projection microscope with engraved measurement lines was sometimes used.
  • OS/360: A number of modified customer applications and program compilations were formed into distinct test job streams and run over and over in different combinations.
  • Temperature shock test: The Poughkeepsie Lab had a number of test chambers for special tests, including two Tenney environmental test chambers. The smaller one of these was an altitude chamber, capable of controlling temperature, humidity and atmospheric pressure. A typical test might consist of holding a particular machine, say a key punch, at -30°F (-34°C) for a few hours, then wheeling it out of the chamber onto a platform, allowing the resulting frost and ice to melt and dry, then plugging it in.
  • Voltage transient test: Each model of IBM electrical equipment included specifications of its resistance to electrical noise on the power line. This was tested by connecting a testing device between the device being tested and the power line. The test device could control all aspects of the electrical power supply, including continuous voltage (over-voltage, under-voltage) and transients. In this way field conditions were simulated, within the parameters of the specifications, and the survivability of the device ascertained.

Other functions

Keeper of Standards

Product Test was responsible for keeping and maintaining the body of standards governing the various aspects of design and development of IBM products. Proposed standards were circulated by the Standards Coordinator to other Product Test Laboratories for approval.

Special tests

Tape drive reel hub: When IBM introduced a new form of tape drive reel hub using a latch mechanism to replace the older screw-on hub, failure reports began to come in from the field. Improvements were made to the design and subjected to extensive testing with periodic inspections. Initially, the testing was performed manually by repeated mounting and dismounting a tape reel, with everyone in the Lab (Poughkeepsie) assigned a number of operations, including the Lab Director. Eventually, a robot was constructed to perform these exhausting tests.

History of Product Test

Product test was disbanded as a separate organization in 197?, and its functions were taken over by testing groups within the development organizations.

Product Test Laboratories

  • Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Endicott, NY
  • LaGaude, (Nice/France
  • Montpellier, France
  • Boeblingen, Germany
  • (and lots of others!)
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