The word ‘computer’ refers to a device or person that possesses the capability to compute. The earliest computer was invented a little more than half a century ago. In fact, the term PC or Personal Computer, which we are all used to by now, did not exist until the first home computer hit the commercial markets.
Our generation is so used to the PC; we practically use it for everything today. But, did you know that the modern PC is the result of a spectrum of technological evolution that occurred over decades. Well, if you didn’t, here’s a brief look at all the technologies that have led to the enhanced version of the PC as we know it today.
Magnetic drums and vacuum tubes
The first “computers” were very different from what we use now. They were fed power using vacuum tubes and storage was handled using magnetic drums. The vacuum tubes were used to control the flow of electricity via a sealed container. The container was composed of transparent glass and shaped roughly similar to a cylinder. The magnetic drums used for storage were basically cylinders coated with metal and a material called magnetic iron-oxide.
The first computer was called the ENIAC (Electric Numerical Integrator and Computer) and John Presper Eckert and John Mauchly invented it. The ENIAC’s construction included 70,000 resistors, 17,458 vacuum tubes, 1,500 relays, 10,000 capacitors, 6000 manual switches, and 5,000,000 soldered joints. It was a massive machine that covered the 1800 square feet and weighed over 25 tons. The ENIAC could carry out large-scale calculations within a second. To be more precise, that included 38 divisions, 357 multiplications or 5,000 additions.
However, due to the complex parts involved, re-programming the computer would take up to a week and maintenance was required round the clock. ENIAC was also an expensive machine to run and its application was limited to very specific tasks. Other problems included overheating and extremely high electricity consumption.
The advent of transistors
By 1956, vacuum tubes were replaced by a new technology that allowed computers to run transistors. Transistors had a significant impact on how electronics were developed and they were mich more dependable than vacuum tubes. Thanks to transistor, computers became more efficient, smaller, cheaper, and also, faster. This was also the time symbolic language like FORTRAN and COBOL came into play. These languages would eventually build the foundation for advanced programming languages of the future.
Eventually, even transistors had to be replaced with something better because they were causing drastic heating issues that led to internal damages.
By 1964, transistors were on the way out and being replaced by integrated circuits. Integrated circuits were a huge advancement in the field of semi-conductor technology. They paved the way for miniature transistors to be mounted on silicon chips. Some would say that this was the beginning of the modern computer. These integrated circuits improved things in a major way. Speeds improved and computers became way more efficient. Added to that, computers became smaller and could be accessed by a larger audience. Eventually, keyboards replaced punch cards and the monitor display was integrated into the system. This phase also saw operating systems come into play, allowing the execution of multiple applications on a single system.
The PC is born
The 4th generation saw the rise of the personal computer. This phase in the evolution of computers saw the development of microprocessors and it happened during the year 1971. Intel developed the first chip and it was called the 4004. Microprocessors consist of several integrated circuits on a single silicon chip. The chip played host to the CPU, input controls, output controls, and memory. The technology was simple leaps and bounds ahead of the previous generations.
A decade from this point, the world saw the launch of the first home computer or PC, which was introduced into the market by IBM. Apple with its signature Macintosh or the Mac soon followed IBM, as we refer to it now.
From here on, several iterations of the PC began to evolve, including the portable laptop.
The Internet and GUI
The next phase saw the creation of computer networks, which eventually led to the development of what we now refer to as the ‘internet’. This was also the same time advanced versions of GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces) came into being. GUIs are what allow us to use mice and keyboards to navigate our respective operating systems.
The Internet, on the other hand, needs very little introduction. Thanks to the Internet, our PCs today are more than just computing machines. They serve every task imaginable from allowing us to communicate with several people across the globe to even choosing our favorite kind of entertainment.
Today’s PCs still run on microprocessors, however, on versions that are highly advanced compared to their predecessors.