What is a computer?

Generations of Computer

computer is an electronic device that manipulates information, or data. It has the ability to storeretrieve, and process data. You may already know that you can use a computer to type documentssend emailplay games, and browse the Web. You can also use it to edit or create spreadsheetspresentations, and even videos.

When we study the many aspects of computing and computers, it is important to know about the history of computers. Charles Babbage designed an Analytical Engine which was a general computerIt helps us understand the growth and progress of technology through the times. It is also an important topic for competitive and banking exams.



Microcomputer is also known as a personal computer. It is a general-purpose computer that is designed for individual use. It has a microprocessor as a central processing unit, memory, storage area, input unit and output unit. Laptops and desktop computers are examples of microcomputers. They are suitable for personal work that may be making an assignment, watching a movie, or at office for office work.

Characteristics of a microcomputer:

  • It is the smallest in size among all types of computers.
  • A limited number of software can be used.
  • It is designed for personal work and applications. Only one user can work at a time.
  • It is less expansive and easy to use.
  • It does not require the user to have special skills or training to use it.
  • Generally, comes with single semiconductor chip.
  • It is capable of multitasking such as printing, scanning, browsing, watching videos, etc.

2.Workstation Computer

Workstation is a single user computer that is designed for technical or scientific applications. It has a faster microprocessor, a large amount of RAM and high speed graphic adapters. It generally performs a specific job with great expertise; accordingly, they are of different types such as graphics workstation, music workstation and engineering design workstation.

Characteristics of workstation computer:

  • It is a high-performance computer system designed for a single user for business or professional use.
  • It has larger storage capacity, better graphics, and more powerful CPU than a personal computer.
  • It can handle animation, data analysis, CAD, audio and video creation and editing.

Any computer that has the following five features, can be termed as a workstation or can be used as a workstation.

  • Multiple Processor Cores: It has more processor cores than simple laptops or computers.
  • ECC RAM: It is provided with Error-correcting code memory that can fix memory errors before they affect the system’s performance.
  • RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks): It refers to multiple internal hard drives to store or process data. RAID can be of different types, for example, there can be multiple drives to process data or mirrored drives where if one drive does not work than other starts functioning.
  • SSD: It is better than conventional hard-disk drives. It does not have moving parts, so the chances of physical failure are very less.
  • Optimized, Higher end GPU: It reduces the load on CPU. E.g., CPU has to do less work while processing the screen output

3.Miniframe or Minicomputer

It is a midsize multiprocessing computer. It consists of two or more processors and can support 4 to 200 users at one time. Miniframe computers are used in institutes and departments for tasks such as billing, accounting and inventory management. A minicomputer lies between the mainframe and microcomputer as it is smaller than mainframe but larger than a microcomputer.

Characteristics of miniframe or minicomputer:

  • It is light weight that makes it easy to carry and fit anywhere.
  • It is less expensive than mainframe computers.
  • It is very fast compared to its size.
  • It remains charged for a long time.
  • It does not require a controlled operational environment.

Applications of minicomputers:

A minicomputer is mainly used to perform three primary functions, which are as follows:

  • Process control: It was used for process control in manufacturing. It mainly performs two primary functions that are collecting data and feedback. If any abnormality occurs in the process, it is detected by the minicomputer and necessary adjustments are made accordingly.
  • Data management: It is an excellent device for small organizations to collect, store and share data. Local hospitals and hotels can use it to maintain the records of their patients and customers respectively.
  • Communications Portal: It can also play the role of a communication device in larger systems by serving as a portal between a human operator and a central processor or computer.

4.Mainframe computer

Mainframe computers are designed to support hundreds or thousands of users simultaneously. They can support multiple programs at the same time. It means they can execute different processes simultaneously. These features of mainframe computers make them ideal for big organizations like banking and telecom sectors, which need to manage and process high volume of data.

Mainframe computers are designed to support hundreds or thousands of users simultaneously. They can support multiple programs at the same time. It means they can execute different processes simultaneously. These features of mainframe computers make them ideal for big organizations like banking and telecom sectors, which need to manage and process a high volume of data that requires integer operations such as indexing, comparisons, etc.

Characteristics of Mainframe Computers:

  • It can process huge amount of data, e.g. millions of transactions in a second in the banking sector.
  • It has a very long life. It can run smoothly for up to 50 years after proper installation.
  • It gives excellent performance with large scale memory management.
  • It has the ability to share or distribute its workload among other processors and input/output terminals.
  • There are fewer chances of error or bugs during processing in mainframe computers. If any error occurs it can fix it quickly without affecting the performance.
  • It has the ability to protect the stored data and other ongoing exchange of information and data.

Applications of mainframe computers:

  • In health care, it enabled hospitals to maintain a record of their millions of patients in order to contact them for treatment or related to their appointment, medicine updates or disease updates.
  • In the field of defence, it allows the defence departments to share a large amount of sensitive information with other branches of defence.
  • In the field of education, it helps big universities to store, manage and retrieve data related to their courses, admissions, students, teachers, employees and affiliated schools and colleges.
  • In the retail sector, the retail companies that have a huge customer base and branches use mainframe computers to handle and execute information related to their inventory management, customer management, and huge transactions in a short duration.


Supercomputers are the biggest and fastest computers. They are designed to process huge amount of data. A supercomputer can process trillions of instructions in a second. It has thousands of interconnected processors.

Supercomputers are particularly used in scientific and engineering applications such as weather forecasting, scientific simulations and nuclear energy research. The first supercomputer was developed by Roger Cray in 1976.

Characteristics or applications of supercomputers:

  • It has the ability to decrypt your password to enhance protection for security reasons.
  • It produces excellent results in animations.
  • It is used for virtual testing of nuclear weapons and critical medical tests.
  • It can study and understand climate patterns and forecast weather conditions. It can run in NOAA’s system (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) that can execute any type of simple and logical data.
  • It helps in designing the flight simulators for pilots at the beginner level for their training.
  • It helps in extracting useful information from data storage centres or cloud system. For example, in insurance companies.
  • It has played a vital role in managing the online currency world such as stock market and bitcoin.
  • It helps in the diagnosis of various critical diseases and in producing accurate results in brain injuries, strokes, etc.
  • It helps in scientific research areas by accurately analysing data obtained from exploring the solar system, satellites, and movement of Earth.
  • It also used in a smog control system where it predicts the level of fog and other pollutants in the atmosphere.

6.Hybrid Computer

Hybrid computer has features of both analogue and digital computer. It is fast like an analogue computer and has memory and accuracy like digital computers. It can process both continuous and discrete data. It accepts analogue signals and convert them into digital form before processing. So, it is widely used in specialized applications where both analogue and digital data is processed. For example, a processor is used in petrol pumps that converts the measurements of fuel flow into quantity and price. Similarly, they are used in airplanes, hospitals, and scientific applications.

Advantages of using hybrid computers:

  • Its computing speed is very high due to the all-parallel configuration of the analogue subsystem.
  • It produces precise and quick results that are more accurate and useful.
  • It has the ability to solve and manage big equation in real-time.
  • It helps in the on-line data processing.

History of Computer Generations

The word ‘computer’ has a very interesting origin. It was first used in the 16th century for a person who used to compute, i.e. do calculations. The word was used in the same sense as a noun until the 20th century. Women were hired as human computers to carry out all forms of calculations and computations.

By the last part of the 19th century, the word was also used to describe machines that did calculations. The modern day use of the word is generally to describe programmable digital devices that run on electricity

Generations of Computers

In the history of computers, we often refer to the advancements of modern computers as the generation of computers. So let us look at the important features of these ninth generations of computers.

  • 1st Generation: This was from the period of 1940 to 1955. This was when machine language was developed for the use of computers. They used vacuum tubes for the circuitry. For the purpose of memory, they used magnetic drums.
  • 2nd Generation1959-1965: Here they advanced from vacuum tubes to transistors. This made the computers smaller, faster and more energy efficient. And they advanced from binary to assembly languages.
  • 3rd Generation: The hallmark of this period (1964-1971) was the development of the integrated circuit.
  • 4th Generation1971-1980: The invention of the microprocessors brought along the fourth generation of computers. This was when we started producing computers for home use. Another important aspect is the development of higher computer languages like C++ and Java.
  • 5th Generation1980-onwards.: This is a special generation in the ict world. The defining aspect of this generation is artificial intelligence. The use of parallel processing and superconductors are making this a reality and provide a lot of scope for the future.

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