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The History of the Computer Generations

Updated on September 16, 2012
Punched Card System
Punched Card System | Source

The evolution of computers

It is very hard to believe but computer's era begins in ancient times. The first mechanical devices that somewhat can be called a limited function computers appeared in 2500 BC. Well, Sumerian abacus cannot be called a real computer, but it's goal was helping in various calculations. The slide rule, that can be called a mechanical analog computer appeared in 1620. Looking deeply in the ancient history many interesting and useful machines, that can be referred as primitive computers can be found. There were machines which calculated the astronomical positions of stellar bodies. Various devices, such as astolabe also can be called computers.

The main idea is that the human is such a creature, whose aim is to create some devices to help him solving various problems. The main aim of every computer is to help us in calculations. The definition of the "computer" says that a computer is a programmable machine designed to automatically carry out a sequence of arithmetic or logical operations. The history of computer generations is very interesting field to explore, because since the 1946, when first real computers were created, they evolve very rapidly. In the short period computer becomes more powerful in enormous steps.

ENIAC | Source

The First Generation: Vacuum Tubes

The first computer generation appeared in 1946-1958. It is the era of vacuum tubes. The computers of this era were huge, very expensive, slow and had limited application capabilities. The first computer that had vacuum tubes was constructed in 1946 by J. P. Eckert and J. Mauchly. Their machine was called ENIAC (Electronc Numerical Integrator and Computer). ENIAC had thousands of vacuum tubes.

IBM 701
IBM 701 | Source

The Second Generation: Transistors

The second generation of computers lasted from 1959-1964. It was a very short era. The vacuum tubes were replaced by transistors. Actually, the invention of a transistor had a huge influence on the development of electronics.

The invention of transistor allowed computer to became smaller, faster and cheaper. These computer also were more efficient and more reliable that the computers of the first generation. The first symbolic (assembly) programming languages appeared in this generation. Also, the backgrounds of high level programing languages were developed. The first versions of COBOL and FORTRAN appeared.

The computer instructions storage also changed. The step from magnetic drum to magnetic core technology was made.

Integrated Circuit - 8 bit microcontroller
Integrated Circuit - 8 bit microcontroller | Source

The Third Generation: Integrated Circuits

The invention of integrated circuits were another great step in developing semiconductors technologies. The third computer generations appeared. The third generation lasted from 1964 to 1971.

The appearance of integrated circuits allowed to place miniaturized transistors on silicon chips. This technological invention allowed computers to increase speed and to become more efficient.

The human interaction with the computer had changed much in this generation. The keyboards and monitors appeared instead of punched cards and printouts. In this generation computers had first operating systems that allowed to run multiple applications on the computer.It was the first time when computer became accessible to a mass audience. they become much smaller and more cheaper, so the usual customer can afford them.

Intel 4004 microprocessor
Intel 4004 microprocessor | Source

The Fourth Generation: Microprocessors

The appearance of microprocessor allowed the fourth generation of computers to appear. This happed in 1971. At the moment we still have fourth generation computers. Microprocessor is a device that have thousand integrated circuits (millions of transistors) built in one silicon chip. The fourth generation was started by Intel 4004 chip that was developed in 1971. The greatest thing in computer evolution was that the whole computer that in first generation filled the whole room, now was integrated into a small chip.

4004 had all computer components integrated on one chip. This chip contained CPU, memory and input/output controls.

Ten years later (in 1981), IBM introduced the first computer that was dedicated to home user. Tree years later Apple introduced Macintosh. The era of mass usage of computers began. The use of microprocessors expanded and in our days, mostly all electronic devices use microprocessors or micro-controllers.

In the fourth generation the development of computer networks began. This lead to invention of the Internet. Many other great thing were developed during these years. Now it is very hard to imagine using computer without mouse, GUI or other features.

The fourth computer generation is a generation of computers as we know them now. Off course, during these years computers became more powerful, smaller, cheaper and so on. But the main idea is the same - microprocessor.


Submit a Comment

  • Dontei profile image

    Michael 5 years ago

    This was very educational, I was not aware of the specific generations that computers were classified as over the ages. Thanks for the cool hub

  • profile image

    sly 5 years ago

    are there no 5th generation computers?

  • profile image

    ramesh 5 years ago

    i wont make my bright career with computer line

  • profile image

    alokpatel 5 years ago

    thanks for it

  • profile image

    wanted 5 years ago


  • Ruby H Rose profile image

    Maree Michael Martin 5 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

    Great Hub. Never thought of how far back computerization was. Thanks!

  • Silwen profile image

    Silwen 5 years ago from Europe

    Thank you Sandy. I am glad that you liked it. I hope your son will find it interesting too.

  • SandyMcCollum profile image

    SandyMcCollum 5 years ago

    Wow lots of good info here! I'm going to show this to my kid, he's a 'puter tutor. I found this quite interesting, too.

  • rahul0324 profile image

    Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

    Silwen! couldn't agree more on the previous comment

  • Silwen profile image

    Silwen 5 years ago from Europe

    Simone, you are welcome! The history of computers and electronics is the most interesting thing for me in the whole history of technology.

  • Simone Smith profile image

    Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

    This is so cool! I love reading about the history of technology, and despite this, I'm quite ignorant when it comes to the "computers" of the past. Thanks for sharing the fun facts!

  • Silwen profile image

    Silwen 5 years ago from Europe

    prasetio30, thank you. I agree with you. Everything is based on technology. And it would be based in the future. The new technologies are developed. But it is always important to look back to those inventions that have changes our life tremendously.

  • prasetio30 profile image

    prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

    Very inspiring hub. We life in modern era where everything based on technology. Computer isn't luxury things right now. I really enjoy this hub. Very well written and you open my mind about the history of computer. Thanks for share with us. Good job and rated up!


  • rahul0324 profile image

    Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

    Seriously Silwen... names can be many but The age of silicon is the most apt....

  • Silwen profile image

    Silwen 5 years ago from Europe

    rahul, great idea! I will have this topic in mind. In my university one professor would call this "The age of Silicon" :)

  • rahul0324 profile image

    Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

    Certainly! You should go ahead and write about the " SEMICONDUCTOR REVOLUTION" AS I would call it...

    will wait for it.. :-)

  • Silwen profile image

    Silwen 5 years ago from Europe

    Thank you, rahul0324. The evolution of semiconductor technology and evolution of computers are closely related. I suppose, I should expand evolution analysis and write more about semiconductor technology evolution also. I am happy that you liked it.

  • rahul0324 profile image

    Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

    nice hub! brief and to the point.

    The second generation was certainly the turning point with the advent of transistors.

    The third generation saw Small Scale Integration of transistors on the first Integrated Circuits followed by MSI(medium scale integration) and The fourth generation saw LSI and VLSI...

    nice work!!