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Introduction to computers

1. General characteristics of digital


computers
1.

Consider

the

definition

of

the

digital

computer

and

its

key

characteristics:
A digital computer is an automatic programmable data
processor. Every part of this definition is crucial to our
understanding of what the modern computer is, and how it
works.

Which of the phrases below refers to each of the four attributes?

There are two odd phrases in list a-j that do not describe digital
computers. Find them.

automatic

programmabl

digital

data
processor

a. instructions to be followed automatically are held within the


store of the computer
b. it operates without human intervention
c. sequences of 0s and 1s can represent a wide range of types
of data
d. it uses digital data and produces results
e. complete collection of components making up a single
computer installation
f. this feature distinguishes the computer from the simple
pocket calculator, where each computation results from a
manual key-press

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g. the computer operates with quantities that take only distinct


values from a known range
h. the computer uses continuously variable quantities
i. the computer uses binary quantities that take only two
values , which represent the digits 0 and 1
j. the same instructions can be used and re-used

2. Check your answers in the text on this page:


A digital computer is an automatic programmable data processor.
Every part of this definition is crucial to our understanding of
what the modern computer is, and how it works.
Automatic means that it operates without human intervention,
except where this is expressly pre-planned and provided for. This
feature alone distinguishes the computer from the simple pocket
calculator, where each computation results from a manual keypress.
Programmable means that the instructions to be followed
automatically are held (as a program) within the store of the
computer. If a repetitive calculation (a loop) is necessary, the
same instructions can be used and re-used. The instructions are
usually held in the same storage area as that used for data
computer programs and the data they operate on can comfortably
co-exist in the same sort of storage.
Digital means that the computer operates with quantities that
take only distinct values from a known range: often these are
binary quantities that take only two values, which represent the
digits 0 and 1. The power of digital data is that sequences of 0s
and 1s can represent a wide range of types of data, including
pictures, music, text and others. Program instructions are also
expressed digitally.

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Finally, the last two words, data processor, simply express what a
computer does it uses digital data, and produces results.
(from BCS glossary of computing and ICT)

2. Computer system*

Think about essential attributes of a system what does it take


for it to function properly?

A computer is a device that processes data according to a set of


instructions

known

as

program.

Whereas

the

physical

equipment is known as hardware, the programs and data are the


software. Hardware and software together constitute a computer
system. The success or failure of any computer system depends
on the skill with which its constituent parts, i.e., hardware and
software, are selected and integrated. Computer software can be
divided into two very broad categories systems software and
applications software. A special set of programs, called an
operating system (OS), provides an interface for the user and
allows applications programs to communicate with the hardware.
In addition to programs, the data used by the computer also
belongs to computer software.
Complete the following passage with the missing words:

strengths

restrict

interface

limited
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speech

scope

weaknesses

evolved

As the _____________of computer applications has been broadened


and the number of computer users has also increased, a variety of
ways have been ___________for communication between the user
and the computer. This is referred to as the user _______________of
the user environment. All user interface designs are _____________
by the capabilities of machines and people. Each design seeks to
make the most of the _____________ and avoid the ________________ of
computer equipment of its users. Generally speaking, aspects of
computer hardware, for example processing speed, memory
capacity, input and output devices, ____________what software can
achieve. This explains why ________________, the most common type
of communication between people, is not yet in everyday use for
communication between people and computers.

*A 'system' is a good mixture of integrated parts which work together to form a


useful whole.

3. Hardware
A typical digital computer assemblage has three basic functional
elements: (1) input-output (I/O) equipment, (2) main memory and
(3) the central processing unit (CPU). The CPU, which is built into
a single microprocessor chip, consists of the control unit and the
arithmetic-logical unit. Another component of the CPU are the
registers, i.e., reserved memory units used to store and control
information. Whereas the central processing unit and the main
memory are considered essential components of most digital
computer systems, the input-output devices, communications
devices

and

secondary

(auxiliary)

storage

units

constitute

peripheral equipment (peripherals) attached to the CPU.


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There are two main types of memory: RAM (random access


memory, working memory, primary memory) holds the program
instructions and the data that is used by the processor. ROM (read
only memory) holds the program instructions and settings needed
to start up the computer. Transferring data between the processor
and RAM can slow up the computer; therefore, some very
expensive, extremely fast memory is usually used as a cache to
hold the most frequently used data.
In a desktop computer, the CPU and storage devices are normally
built inside a system unit. Other peripherals are usually attached
to the system unit by cables. However, computer designers are
constantly experimenting with other, more compact types of
computers.

Make wh-word questions about the text on the previous pages that match the
answers below.

1. Two very broad categories.


2. The skill with which its constituent parts, are selected and
integrated.
3. Capabilities of machines and people.
4. More compact types of computers.
5. Aspects of computer hardware.
6. A single microprocessor chip.
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7. To hold the most frequently used data.


8. Peripheral equipment.
9. Program instructions and settings needed to start up the
computer.

4. Types of computers
Complete the subheadings by inserting the words in A-E that denote common
types of computers:
There are different types of computer of varying size and power,
including the following:
A. ______________________
a very large computer which works very fast. It is likely to have many
processors working in parallel, so that tasks can be completed very
quickly.

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B. ______________________
a large, very powerful computer; multi-user, i.e.*, can be accessed from
many (several thousand) terminals at the same time. It is capable of
multi-tasking, i.e., it can run many programs and process different sets
of data at the same time. Such computers are used in managing central
databases.
C. ______________________
They are now considered to be small mainframes usually accessed
from several terminals (multi-user). Minicomputers are more powerful
than microcomputers (PCs), but they are still inexpensive enough to be
bought by small and medium-sized organizations.
D. _____________________ (or _______________________ )
A computer small enough and cheap enough

to

be

bought

by

individuals, i.e., a single-user computer. A personal computer is a type


of microcomputer a small digital computer that uses only one
microprocessor. (A microprocessor is a semiconductor chip that contains
all the arithmetic, logic, and control circuitry needed to perform the
functions of a computer's central processing unit.). Personal computers
generally are low-cost machines that can perform most of the functions
of larger computers but use software oriented toward easy, single-user
applications.
Note that the term PC usually refers to an IBM compatible personal
computer i.e., an Apple Mac personal computer is not referred to as a
PC. In term of principal design, two basic personal computer types can
be differentiated: desktop computers and portable computers (such as
laptops, netbooks and tablets) that pocket PCs (handheld computers
and PDAs) also belong to.
E. ________________ computers
A computer that provides a service on a network, e.g., storing files,
sharing a printer, is known as a server computer. Server computers
usually have a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) attached to them.
This is a battery that automatically provides an electricity supply to
allow the server to shut itself down properly if the main supply fails.
* i.e. = that is, in other words
3. Find words/phrases on pages 39-41 that match the descriptions (A) in the table.

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changeable
simultaneously
a piece of equipment joining the user to
the central
computer system
performing several operations at the
same time
opposite of single-user
small and firmly packed together
finish working in the way it should be
done
various parts forming an integrated
whole
used to assist or support
that cannot be interrupted
to link / connect
electricity supply
where most frequently used data is held
on a computer
electric circuits considered as a group

After you read


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1. Some definitions of hardware-related terms

Which of the following elements of hardware (1-6) do the sentences below


refer to:
1. the main memory
3. the ALU
5. output devices

___

2. the control unit


4. input devices
6. secondary memory

any device used to enter data and program instructions into a

computer
___

any device which enables access to the results of processing

___

here information for future use can be stored

___

here data and programs for immediate use are held

___

this unit selects and controls signals and commands inside the

processor and
directs all the operations of the ALU.
___

this unit processes data by performing arithmetic and logic


algorithms; the arithmetic operations include addition (+),
subtraction (-), multiplication (x), division (/) and exponentiation
(xn).

Put the following elements in the right order. No extra elements need to be
added.
__________________________________________________________________________________
1. constitute / computer / Software / alone / doesn't / a / system
2. needs / A computer / hardware / system / software / complete /
both / and / to be
3. arithmetic-logical / unit / and / unit / are / control/ the / parts of
the / processor / The
4. processor / CPU / The / is / referred / as / the / usually / to
__________________________________________________________________________________

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2. Verb + noun collocations


Collocations or word partnerships can be one of the features of a specific
jargon. The way words are combined in a phrase does not have to be the same in
the language of medicine, law or computing. In learning the terminology of a
particular field it is therefore useful to pay attention to combinations of words,
not just the meaning of specific technical terms. Some of the examples of
phrases commonly found in texts about computers are given below.
1. Complete the collocations in the table below. Most of them are used in Units 23.

verb

+ noun

verb

+ noun

solve

p___________

select
i____________

parts

process

information / data
s____ of data

divide into

c____________

o___________

on data

h___________

instructions / data
/
settings (in
memory)

d___________

operations

attach

e___________
to the CPU /
peripherals

control

the f_______

store
use

p__________ and
data

perform

tasks /
al___________

s________ up

the computer

o___________

business data

en__________ /
provide

access

simulate

b__________ of
complex systems

r___________ /
ex_____________

a program

access

a computer /
a d____ b____

provide

power s_________ /
inter________ /
services

m__________

a data base

e____________

data / instructions

r___________

commands to

s___________

the speed of to

con__________

a system

re___________

instructions

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_e

2. Divide the words in the box into sentences. Then find examples of verb
+ noun collocations. Some of them appear in the table on page 44.
the control unit selects instructions and data from the memory
in appropriate sequence and relays the proper commands to the
appropriate unit it also synchronizes the varied operating
speeds of the input and output devices to that of the arithmeticlogical unit (ALU) so as to ensure the proper movement of data
through

the

entire

computer

system

data

is

transferred

constantly between the processor and memory along the


system bus the control unit controls the flow between main
storage and the arithmetic-logical unit and directs all the
operations of the ALU

3. Various collocation types based on the word


software

Use the words in box A to make pairs of collocations with a similar


meaning in box B.

A
application

customized

defective

design

develop

environment

faulty

the latest

old
fashioned

platform

package

out-of-date

provide

run

supplier

supply

tailor-made

up-to-date

use

vendor

B
Verb + noun collocation
to design

OR develop

software

to

software

to

software

Noun + noun collocation


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software

application

OR

software
software

Adjective + noun collocation


old-fashioned

OR

software
software
software
software

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