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working. The only way we can take advantage of and manage the vast amounts of available information is through the understanding of how computers work and through the ability to use computers. Most people believe that knowing how to use a computer is a basic skill necessary to succeed in the work world and to function effectively in society. This overview module will help you join the Information Age by learning the definition and characteristics of computers. Even if you do not have a home computer or use a computer at work, you have been using computers for some time. When you use an ATM, when you use a bank debit card, or when you order merchandise by phone; you are using a computer. You have also been exposed to many computer advertisements. The goal of this study guide is to help you become computer literate. In becoming computer literate, you will need to be aware of the importance of computers and be able to use them to accomplish tasks everyday. You probably have a good start toward computer literacy, but let’s take a closer look. Definition of a Computer The most obvious question you should ask is, What is a computer? A computer is an electronic device that operates under the control of a set of instructions that is stored in its memory unit. A computer accepts data from an input device and processes it into useful information which it displays on its output device. Actually, a computer is a collection of hardware and software components that help you accomplish many different tasks. Hardware consists of the computer itself, and any equipment connected to it. Software is the set of instructions that the computer follows in performing a task. We will explore hardware and software more in depth in the next module. A typical computer system is shown in the figure below.
The largest computers are supercomputers. and airlines are typical users. manufacturers. Large computers are called mainframes. Mainframe computers process data at very high rates of speed. Cray supercomputers. The Cray supercomputer is nicknamed "Bubbles". They are the most powerful. The price of a microcomputer varies greatly from less than $1000 to several . Often microcomputers are connected to networks of other computers. and the fastest.computers that control the networks of computers for large companies like catalog merchandiser L. Mainframes are designed for multiple users and process vast amounts of data quickly. Supercomputers are used for tasks that require mammoth data manipulation. Workstations are specialized computers that approach the speed of mainframes. insurance companies. They are very expensive. Also. such as the IRS. Mainframes are often ‘servers’-. Microcomputers can be divided into two groups -. and/or by processing capacity. Examples of users of these computers are governmental agencies. they are used in the making of movies. The size of computers varies widely from tiny to huge and is usually dictated by computing requirements. now maintain 75 percent of the supercomputer market.personal computers and workstations. Banks.Classification of Computers Computers can be classified many different ways -. They are capable of processing trillions of instructions per second. by function. it is clear that the IRS will have different requirements than those of a college student. the National Weather Service. because of its bubbling coolant liquids. The size of a computer often determines its function and processing capacity.by size. the most expensive. mail-order companies. the first of which was invented by Seymour Cray. space exploration. and the National Defense Agency. L. costing millions of dollars in some cases. measured in the millions of instructions per second. We will study the classification of computers by size. For example. Bean. and the design of many other machines.
Microcomputers make up the vast majority of computers. reliability. on the stock exchange. Each generation of computer is characterized by a major technological development that fundamentally changed the way computers operate. heavier version is called a laptop computer. lighter. not computers. Most errors are caused by humans. Another classification of computer is the notebook computer. Notebooks generally cost more than microcomputers but can run most of the microcomputer software and are more versatile. storage capacity. The quick service we expect at the bank. PDAs are called pen-based computers because they utilize a pen-like stylus that accepts handwritten input directly on a touch-sensitive screen.speed. You have probably noticed delivery employees using these. travel. notebook computers are getting faster. depending on the capacity and features of the computer. and more functional. yet it can compete with the microcomputer. Computers are the foundation of business. at the grocery store. resulting in . and on the Internet are dependent on the speed of computers. The smallest computer is the handheld computer called a personal digital assistant or a PDA. Like other computers. The Five Generations of Computers The history of computer development is often referred to in reference to the different generations of computing devices.thousand dollars. Computers are capable of storing enormous amounts of data that must be located and retrieved very quickly. and productivity. and leisure life today. Characteristics of computers Computers of all sizes have common characteristics -. Computers provide the processing speed required by all facets of society. A larger. The capability to store and retrieve volumes of data is at the core of the Information Age. PDAs are used to track appointments and shipments as well as names and addresses. Can you imagine our world without computers? Computers are extremely reliable as well. A notebook computer can fit into a briefcase and weigh fewer than two pounds.
faster.1964-1971: Integrated Circuits The development of the integrated circuit was the hallmark of the third generation of computers. Secondgeneration computers still relied on punched cards for input and printouts for output.1956-1963: Transistors Transistors replaced vacuum tubes and ushered in the second generation of computers. The transistor was invented in 1947 but did not see widespread use in computers until the late 50s. Instead of punched cards and printouts. Second-generation computers moved from cryptic binary machine language to symbolic. users interacted with third generation computers through keyboards and monitors and interfaced with an operating system. Transistors were miniaturized and placed on silicon chips. and were often enormous. taking up entire rooms. High-level programming languages were also being developed at this time. which was often the cause of malfunctions. Third Generation . generated a lot of heat. cheaper. or assembly. Second Generation . more energy-efficient and more reliable than their first-generation predecessors. and more powerful and more efficient and reliable devices. The first computers of this generation were developed for the atomic energy industry. cheaper. which allowed the device to run many . languages. which drastically increased the speed and efficiency of computers. and they could only solve one problem at a time. The UNIVAC was the first commercial computer delivered to a business client. They were very expensive to operate and in addition to using a great deal of electricity. Though the transistor still generated a great deal of heat that subjected the computer to damage. it was a vast improvement over the vacuum tube. such as early versions of COBOL and FORTRAN. which allowed programmers to specify instructions in words. First generation computers relied on machine language to perform operations. The UNIVAC and ENIAC computers are examples of first-generation computing devices. These were also the first computers that stored their instructions in their memory. which moved from a magnetic drum to magnetic core technology. The transistor was far superior to the vacuum tube. First Generation . Input was based on punched cards and paper tape. and output was displayed on printouts.1940-1956: Vacuum Tubes The first computers used vacuum tubes for circuitry and magnetic drums for memory. called semiconductors. allowing computers to become smaller. the U. Census Bureau in 1951.S.increasingly smaller.
located all the components of the computer . such as voice recognition. What in the first generation filled an entire room could now fit in the palm of the hand. Fourth generation computers also saw the development of GUIs.Present and Beyond: Artificial Intelligence Fifth generation computing devices.1971-Present: Microprocessors The microprocessor brought the fourth generation of computers. they could be linked together to form networks. and in 1984 Apple introduced the Macintosh. which eventually led to the development of the Internet. Fifth Generation . Microprocessors also moved out of the realm of desktop computers and into many areas of life as more and more everyday products began to use microprocessors. Fourth Generation . are still in development. The goal of fifthgeneration computing is to develop devices that respond to natural language input and are capable of learning and self-organization. that are being used today. though there are some applications. Quantum computation and molecular and nanotechnology will radically change the face of computers in years to come. The use of parallel processing and superconductors is helping to make artificial intelligence a reality. In 1981 IBM introduced its first computer for the home user. as thousands of integrated circuits were built onto a single silicon chip. Computers for the first time became accessible to a mass audience because they were smaller and cheaper than their predecessors.on a single chip. . As these small computers became more powerful.different applications at one time with a central program that monitored the memory.from the central processing unit and memory to input/output controls . the mouse and handheld devices. developed in 1971. The Intel 4004 chip. based on artificial intelligence.
But Napier also invented an alternative to tables. The abacus is still in use today. inventors have been searching for hundreds of years for a way to mechanize (that is. Gemini. day after day. This device got little publicity because Schickard died soon afterward in the bubonic plague. electronic computers (and the earlier mechanical computers) were given this name because they performed the work that had previously been assigned to people. And even on your best days you wouldn't be producing answers very fast. The first gear-driven calculating machine to actually be built was probably the calculating clock. Imagine you had a job where hour after hour. so named by its inventor. The abacus is often wrongly attributed to China. and Apollo programs which landed men on the moon. . A typical computer operation back when computers were people. which are a technology that allows multiplication to be performed via addition. leading to mistakes. Therefore. find a mechanism that can perform) this task. by the Babylonians. A modern abacus consists of rings that slide over rods. and planetary positions for astronomical almanacs. first built in England in 1632 and still in use in the 1960's by the NASA engineers of the Mercury. the German professor Wilhelm Schickard in 1623. A skilled abacus operator can work on addition and subtraction problems at the speed of a person equipped with a hand calculator (multiplication and division are slower). the oldest surviving abacus was used in 300 B. but the older one pictured below dates from the time when pebbles were used for counting (the word "calculus" comes from the Latin word for pebble). where the logarithm values were carved on ivory sticks which are now called Napier's Bones. In fact. you were to do nothing but compute multiplications. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) made drawings of gear-driven calculating machines but apparently never built any. In 1617 an eccentric (some say mad) Scotsman named John Napier invented logarithms.C. leading to carelessness. The abacus was an early aid for mathematical computations. principally in the far east. The magic ingredient is the logarithm of each operand.History of Computers The first computers were people! That is. Boredom would quickly set in. "Computer" was originally a job title: it was used to describe those human beings (predominantly women) whose job it was to perform the repetitive calculations required to compute such things as navigational tables. tide charts. which was originally obtained from a printed table. Napier's invention led directly to the slide rule. Its only value is that it aids the memory of the human performing the calculation.
at age 19. he was discovered doing his version of Euclid's thirtysecond proposition on the kitchen floor. Pascal built 50 of this gear-driven one-function calculator (it could only add) but couldn't sell many because of their exorbitant cost and because they really weren't that accurate (at that time it was not possible to fabricate gears with the required precision). Pascal went on to invent probability theory. and the syringe. the hydraulic press. Shown below is an 8 digit version of the Pascaline. At the age of 12. and two views of a 6 digit version: . invented the Pascaline as an aid for his father who was a tax collector. Pascal was a child prodigy.In 1642 Blaise Pascal. Up until the present age when car dashboards went digital. the odometer portion of a car's speedometer used the very same mechanism as the Pascaline to increment the next wheel after each full revolution of the prior wheel.