How Have Computers Developed and Changed?

Posted on March 22, 2013


The word 'computer' means someone or something who computes. A computer is a general purpose device that has developed a lot over the years. Could you live without a computer or any technology that uses the internet? Since the 1940's, there has been four generations of computers with the pros and cons attached. So how did the first computer come about and how has it changed over the years? But also, how has it changed society?

The 1st Generation

The 1st generation of computers was from 1940 to 1955. Computers were powered by vacuum tubes and used magnetic drums to store data and memory.

The vacuum tube controlled the electric current through a sealed container. The container was often made of thin transparent glass in a rough cylinder shape. The magnetic drum is a metal coated cylinder with magnetic iron-oxide material which stored data and programs.

The ENIAC (Electric Numerical Integrator and Computer) was created by John Mauchly and John Presper Eckert. The ENIAC contained 17,468 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, 1,500 relays, 6,000 manual switches and 5 million soldered joints. It covered 1800 square feet of floor space and weighed 30 tons. In one second, the ENIAC could workout 5,000 additions, 357 multiplications or 38 divisions. Because vacuum tubes are used instead of switches and relays in increases the speed of the calculations, but it took technicians weeks to re-program and the machine required many hours of maintenance - 24 hours a day!

There were many problems with the first generation computers, like many things when they start out. They were very expensive to make and run, slow and had limited application capabilities. They also generated a lot of heat and used large amounts of electricity, the ENIAC used 160 kilowatts of electrical power!

The 2nd Generation

Then in 1956, the second generation of computers hit. The vacuum tubes were no longer the best thing for running a computer, the latest component to replace the vacuum tubes is a transistor. The transistor had a major influence on the development of electronics as it was more reliable than the first generation. It made the computers smaller, faster, cheaper and more efficient to run. The first symbolic languages appeared and the backgrounds of high level programming languages were developed. The first versions of this was COBOL and FORTRAN. However, they were still generating a lot of heat which resulted in the damage of sensitive internal parts of the computer.

The 3rd Generation

The era of transistors was short lived because in 1964, integrated circuits became the next great thing in developing semiconductor technology. Integrated circuits allowed to place miniaturised transistors on silicon chips. And of course the better technology enhanced the speed and efficiency and was much smaller and cheaper to run and the computers were made to be more accessible and affordable to a mass audience. Punched cards and printouts were replaced by keyboards and monitors and the first operating system was created to allow multiple applications to run on one computer.

You can probably see the modern computer starting to take shape as the evolution of computers goes on. Computers were getting faster and using less energy and money to run and more affordable for the average person to buy.

                              The 4th Generation

The 4th generation is still the present generation of computers. When microprocessors where invented in 1971, the era of mass usage of computers began! The 4th generation was started by the Intel 4004 chip. Microprocessors have thousands of integrated circuits on one silicon chip. This chip contained the CPU, memory and input/output controls – a lot more advanced that the last 3 generations. 10 years later, IBM introduced the first computer that was dedicated to the home user. Then three years later, Apple introduced Macintosh.

The development of computer networks began and this lead to the invention of the Internet. In the last generation keyboards and monitors were invented, in this generation we saw the invention of the mouse, GUI and other features. The usage of microprocessors expanded and in present day, the majority of electronic devices used microprocessors or micro-controllers.

The Present day and the Future

It is amazing to see how the computer has developed, from a computer that filled a large room to what we have in the workplace and at home today - a smaller, faster version of the 1st computer. But how has the development of computers changed the way we work, find information and communicate. Think, when was the last time you found out something from a book or asked a specialist? We all know it is easier and quicker to type a few words into a search engine and get the answer within 1 second, because we have constant access to powerful search engines. Does anyone write anything down on a bit of paper with a pen anymore? Or do we tap it into our phones and computers?

As time has gone on, computers have had a dramatic impact on the way we think and work. Before the 1st computer was invented, 'computer' was a job description for people who performed calculations by hand and paper, and now those job descriptions have changed to SEO, IT Support or Data Analyst.

With computers, we are able to work quicker and more efficiently because of how advanced they are. They can store masses of memory and data and you can open up many applications on the internet to help with your work. Computers have also shrunk in size and become easier to steal - many people have invested in laptop and computer security to lock down their valuable computers and laptops.

Communication has changed because of computers as well. 9 times out of 10, we would email or socially interact with someone, using twitter or facebook instead of talking to them over the phone or simply meeting face-to- face. For business meetings, you can now 'Facetime' other companies instead of travelling to a place to have a conference.

Have computers changed the world too much? Or are we comfortable with what we have and do we need the computer to advanced to another generation?


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**UPDATE JULY 2015**

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