The Basics Introduction of Computers

What is a computer?

The word “Computer” is derived from the word “compute”, which means calculate. Oxford Dictionary defines computer “as electronic apparatus for analyzing or storing data, making calculations, or controlling machinery”.

So, the purpose of inventing calculator was to create a fast calculating machine. But in present circumstances with advanced calculator (i.e. computer) its use is not only limited to calculations. Hence defining computer, as an only calculating device is to ignore it’s more than 80% of non-mathematical use.

More accurately, it may to defined as an electronic device that operates (process) upon information or data with the ability to perform the following task.

  1. Accept data supplied by the user.
  2. Perform complex and repetitive calculations rapidly and accurately.
  3. Accept, Store and Execute Instructions/Commands.
  4. Perform mathematical and logical operations.
  5. Compare items and make decisions.
  6. Edit text, Generate pictures or graphs.
  7. Converse with users interactively.
  8. Translate language and even play games.
  9. Gives output according to user requirements.

Over all, a computer can store, process and retrieve data as a when required or requested by the user.

A computer generally means a programmable machine!!!
A computer generally means a programmable machine!!! | Source

Application Areas of Computers

  • The ability of computers to store large amounts of data has led to their application in libraries, factories, employment exchanges, hospitals and other similar establishments.
  • Business and commercial organizations need to store and maintain huge records and use them for different purposes like financial planning, inventory control, production management, sales analysis, payroll accounting and generation of various reports.
  • Scientists and Engineers use the computers for solving complex mathematical models and design problems. The great achievement of landing on the moon would not have been possible without computers.
  • Industries and business systems use computers extensively in manufacturing, processing industries, power distribution systems, airline reservation systems, transportation systems, banking systems and so on.
  • Modeling and Simulation are areas where computers are widely used like physical and social sciences, medicines, astronomy and meteorology.
  • As computers can converse with users they are used as resources in teaching and learning education and training. Learners can directly communicate with a computer and they can learn topic with their own time and place.
  • Computers can store student responses, evaluate his performance and then direct him to the next appropriate learning unit.

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Characteristic of Computers

As we know, human brain has certain limitations, which prompts us to use computers. Following are the characteristics of computers:

Speed

Computer is a very fast device. Its speed varies from KHz to MHz (Hz=Cycles/Sec.). It can perform any complicated task within a few seconds.

Accuracy

Computer is found to be one of the most accurate devices in the world. Each and every calculation is performed with the same accuracy.

Diligence

Unlike human beings, a computer is free from dullness, tiredness, lack of concentration etc. and hence can work for hours together without creating any errors and complaining.

For example, if ten million calculations have to be performed, computer will perform all of them with exactly the same accuracy as the first one.

Versatility

A computer is capable of performing almost any task provided that the task can be reduced to a series of logical steps.

Memory

A computer can store and recall any amount of information because of its secondary storage; a detachable memory. Every piece if information can be retained as long as desired by the user.

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Limitations of Computers

Computers also have some limitations. After all it’s a machine, which can break down. Following are the other limitations:

Computers can’t think

The computers cannot like the human brain, but they can execute all instructions given to them any number of times without errors.

Computers cannot learn from experience. Human can think how to find new alternatives when one doesn’t work, computer lack this ability.

Data Correctness

Computer only makes mistakes when the data entered has an error. So there must be programs for checking for ensuring that data entry errors do not occur.

Incorrect Program

This problem comes up after the data correctness. If the data entered is correct and the program written to process this data has error, once again the output obtained will be incorrect.

Evolution of Computers

There is an old saying, “Necessity is the mother if Invention”. There has always been the need of devices that could perform calculations accurately and with speed. Long ago people used to calculate by their fingers or some manual devices, one of the devices being ABACUS.

The abacus, also called a counting frame!!!
The abacus, also called a counting frame!!! | Source
The standard punch card, improved by Herman Hollerith!!!
The standard punch card, improved by Herman Hollerith!!! | Source

The history of Abacus

Abacus is a frame with beads strung on rods, by manipulating these beads additions and subtractions were possible. In 1647, Pascal’s Machine was developed by Blaise Pascal, which is supposes to be the first mechanical calculating machine.

After that in 1694, Gottfried improved upon the Pascal’s machine by coming up with a calculating machine which could add, subtract, multiply, divide and give square roots. The only drawback of this machine was that the results took lot of time and results were inaccurate in general.

The history of Punch Card

In 1820 Joseph Jacquard developed first Punch card machine, which was further, improved by Dr, Herman Hollerith 1887. He added readable card concept in his machine and designed a device known as Census Machine.

Punch cards are based on simple idea that Input data is first recorded in a coded form by punching holes on the card. The punched card data processing was definitely accurate and speedy as compared to any device of that time, but it was necessary to have people handle trays of cards between each step.

Before the Hollerith efforts, in 1833 Charles Babbage proposed a machine known as Analytic Engine, which had the punch card input, memory unit, an output unit. Later this machine became the base of what we see today. Hence Charles Babbage is called the father of computers.

The First generation computer used vacuum tubes as memory devices!!!
The First generation computer used vacuum tubes as memory devices!!! | Source

Generations of Computers

Computers have been classified into five generations as follows:

The History of First Generation Computers

Before 1940 all calculating machines were manual (mechanical) so there was need for some automatic machine. First electronic part used for this was Vacuum tubes. Computers invented in this generation were Mark 1, ENIVAC, and EDVAC. They contained 18000 vacuum tubes, weighed more than 30 tons and occupied 1500 sq. ft. and they were able to perform thousands of mathematical operations per minute.

The History of Second Generation Computers

Transistor were developed in 1947 and implemented for computers in 1950. They were smaller in size compared to vacuum tubes, negligible heat dissipation, consumed less electricity and lasts longer. Computer invented in this period (1954 to 1964) were RCA, IBM and UNIVAC. Second generation computers smaller in size, less expensive to built, much faster and more dependable compared to first generation computers.

The History of Third Generation Computers

Basic element of these computers was Integrated Circuits (IC) and invented in 1960. They combine all the parts of computers in a single Silicon chip. Its size was of fingernail. Third generation computers were built in the 1960 and 1970, Mainframe and minicomputers were made out of these parts only. Third generation computers smaller in size, easier to use, fast, affordable and consumes less electricity.

The History of Fourth Generation Computers

These are microcomputers and use the same element called IC. These are personal computers and desktop computers used today. These kinds of computers were developed in 1980, which had all the units like Arithmetic unit, Logic unit, Memory unit and Control unit.

The History of Fifth Generation Computers

They are still in the process of invention having capabilities to type as we speak. These will be the computers of the future. Following are expected out of them:

  • They will be smaller
  • They will work faster
  • Less expensive and Reliable
  • They will have features for optimum Artificial Intelligence.

Data, Processing and Information

Data collection in computers

Data is a collection of facts, figures, statistics that can be processed to produce meaningful information. In a business environment, data can be number of hours worked, names of employees, details of purchase made or employee per details. In computers, everything is kept in files. This file gets created, closed, saved, opened and modified when required.

Processing data in computers

Once data has been entered through the input device, it can be worked any time to obtain information. Performing arithmetic operations or logical operations (comparisons like equal to, less than, greater than, etc.) on data to convert them into useful information is called processing.

Information processes in computers

Information is processed data. It refers to facts, figures or statistics that have meaning. Although data and information are technically different they are often mistaken for each other.

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