Computing hardware has been an important component of the process of calculation anddata storagesince it becameuseful for numerical values to be processed and shared. Theearliest computing hardware was probably some form of tallystick ; later record keeping aids includePhoenicianclayshapeswhich represented counts of items, probably livestock orgrains, in containers. Something similar is found in earlyMinoan excavations. These seem to have been used by themerchants,accountants, and government officials of the time.Devices to aid computation have changed from simplerecording and counting devices to theabacus, theslide rule,analog computers, and more recent electroniccomputers. Eventoday, an experiencedabacususer using a device hundreds of years old can sometimes complete basic calculations morequickly than an unskilled person using an electroniccalculator — though for more complex calculations, computers out-perform even the most skilled human.This article covers major developments in the history of computing hardware, and attempts to put them in context. Fora detailed timeline of events, see thecomputing timelinearticle.Thehistory of computingarticle is a related overview andtreats methods intended for pen and paper, with or without theaid of tables.
The Five Generations of Computers
The history of computer development is oftenreferred to in reference to the different generations of computingdevices. Each generation of computer ischaracterized by a major technological development thatfundamentally changed the way computers operate, resultingin increasingly smaller, cheaper, and more powerful and moreefficient and reliable devices. Read about each generation andthe developments that led to the current devices that we usetoday.
First generation – Vacuum Tubes
ABACUSThe first computers used vacuum tubes for circuitry andmagnetic drumsformemory, and were often enormous, takingup entire rooms. They were very expensive to operate and inaddition to using a great deal of electricity, generated a lot of heat, which was often the cause of malfunctions. Firstgeneration computers relied onmachine languageto performoperations, and they could only solve one problem at a time.Input was based on punched cards and paper tape, and outputwas displayed on printouts.The UNIVAC andENIACcomputers are examples of first-generation computing devices. The UNIVAC was the firstcommercial computer delivered to a business client, the U.S.Census Bureau in 1951.