What is a Computer?

What Does Computer Mean

A computer , computer or computer is a programmable digital machine, electronically operated , capable of processing large amounts of data at high speeds. In this way, it obtains useful information that it then presents to a human operator , or transmits to other systems through different types of computer networks .



The computer is the most versatile, powerful and revolutionary tool that the human being has created in its recent history . It represents the high point of the industrial , scientific and technological Revolution that witnessed the 20th century after the Second World War .

Its presence and popularization in our time not only changed forever the way of processing information in the world , but also the way of working and conceiving of work, ways of communicating long distance, forms of leisure, and many other areas. of everyday life.

They consist primarily of a large number of integrated circuits, supporting components, and electronic extensions. However, computers have changed radically throughout their own rapid history , from being huge and cumbersome facilities to occupying a place as small as our pants pocket, in the case of smartphones.

The enormous number of components in a computer can be grouped into two separate categories, which are:

  • Hardware . The physical and tangible part of the system, that is, its electrical and electronic components, which fulfill various fundamental functions, such as performing calculations or powering the system. Somehow it would be equivalent to the "body" of the computer.
  • Software . The intangible, digital, abstract part of the system, which deals with operations of a conceptual or representational type, usually within a simulated virtual environment, that is, within a simulation that makes interaction with the user more friendly. This encompasses all types of programs , from the basic programs (such as the Operating System that keeps the system running) to later installed applications. Following the metaphor , it would be equivalent to the "mind" of the computer.

See also: Hardware and software

Computer types

Mainframes carry out millions of calculations and operations per second.

There are very different types of computer, attending to features such as its size, power and utility. They stand out among them:

  • Supercomputers. The most powerful devices in the world are actually sets of different computers integrated into a single unit, which can be exponentially powered. The world's largest supercomputer is located at the China National University of Defense Technology, it is called Tianhe-2 and can perform about 33.48 trillion operations per second.
  • Mainframes. They are also known as macrocomputers, and they are usually large (at least compared to laptops) and found in carefully cooled rooms within large companies or institutions in a country, where they carry out millions of calculations and operations per second , feeding entire computer networks and systems with information.
  • Personal computers (PCs). Units intended for the use of a single user at a time, allowing you to perform a wide variety of tasks, including connecting to a computer network and sending and receiving data at high speeds. They have a variable power microprocessor and are the type of computers that we can commercially access in any technology store . They are also known as desktop computers.
  • Laptops (laptops, netbooks). Although they are indeed personal computers, we list these types of devices separately because they are physically light parts, designed for use outdoors or to travel with us in a briefcase. Although they have less power than PCs, they make up for it in practicality and mobility.
  • Tablets and cell phones. The most recent generation of technological devices ( gadgets ) are essentially computers, although they are destined for different functions (generally more recreational or communications ) and of an even smaller size than laptops. Smart phones are small but powerful computers dedicated to telecommunications and Internet browsing , while tablets are small touch screens with similar functions.

Parts of a Computer

Broadly speaking, a computer system or computer is made up of numerous elements gathered into three sets or parts:

  • Central Processing Unit (CPU). CPU is the acronym in English for Central Processing Unit , and that is the name given to the "brain" of the computer, that is, its logical-electronic core. There the logical operations take place in the processors or microprocessors of the system, and the fixed memory and storage units are physically arranged. The latter are called "hard disk" or "hard disk", and used to contain information. In turn, the CPU is made up of:

    • The Arithmetic-Logical Unit (ALU). Dedicated to carrying out the logical, mathematical or formal operations that support the system.
    • The Control Unit (UC). In charge of monitoring the system and ensuring its continuous operation.
    • The registers. What are the information that generates the operation of the system, and that is used for feedback processes of the system.
  • Memory . Memory is an electronic space where the information that the system requires to work is temporarily stored, which is why it is also known as working memory. There are two forms of memory:

    • Random Access Memory (RAM: Random Access Memory ). Consisting of a sequence of storage cells temporarily occupied by work information. It can be written and rewritten as needed. When you shut down and start the system, the RAM is completely reset.
    • Read Only Memory (ROM: Read Only Memory ). A space in which the minimum essential information for the computer to start its operations is already registered at the factory, such as the set up and the minimum configuration that gives rise to the most complex software processes. This memory can be read millions of times, but cannot be altered at will.
  • Peripheral devices . Peripherals are the non-core components of a computer, that is, its accessories or attachments, which can be changed or replaced without altering the core of the system's operations. These devices allow you to enter (input) or extract (output) information from the system, or perform both operations at the same time (input-output). Examples of peripherals are monitors, printers, keyboards, speakers, etc.

Follow in: Components of a computer

Evolution of computers

In the fourth generation, the miniaturization of integrated circuits was achieved.

The history of computers is quite recent. However, numerous non-digital and even non-electronic devices to deal with large volumes of information can be considered as antecedents : the abacus, or the mechanical devices to calculate that were used in the past, are an example of this.

In addition, it must be considered how old the conceptual bases of all computer systems are, such as mathematics and algorithms (830 AD), or calculation rules (1620 AD). However, the "analytical engine" of Charles Babbage (1833) and the tabulating engine of Hermann Hollerith (1890) are considered the first computers.

However, they were not yet comparable to the systems that began to appear in the 20th century. Led by the English mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954), during World War II various Allied scientists collaborated in the development of automatic systems to decipher enemy military codes.

The opposing side also began to implement this strategy , with the creation of the Z1 automatic calculator, by the German engineer Konrad Zuse (1910-1995), which would be followed by the Z2, Z3 and Z4 versions, whose success went unnoticed due to the war. .

The first electromechanical computer, the Harvard Mark I, was born in 1944 , the result of the American company IBM, and soon its successors Colossus Mark I and Colossus Mark 2 appeared. Since then, five generations of computers have been developed successively, achieving each increasing capacities:

  • The first generation. Appeared in 1951, it consisted of bulky calculating machines equipped with bulbs, thin tubes of liquid mercury and magnetic drums. The operators had to enter the control programs through collections of perforated cardboard cards, in which the information was encrypted in binary code (presence or absence of the hole). The starting point of this generation is the commercialization of the UNIVAC computer, which weighed about 30 tons and required a complete room.
  • The second generation. The first revolution in the world of computers was produced by the introduction in 1959 of transistors , which replaced vacuum tubes and allowed for faster computing, smaller physical size of the system, and fewer needs for ventilation and cooling. These machines benefited from the invention of COBOL, the first programming language in history.
  • The third generation. It arose from the invention in 1957 of integrated circuits (in silicon tablets) and its introduction to the world of computing in 1964. This provided greater logistical capabilities and made it possible to make the use of the computer more flexible through multiprogramming, which provided great versatility to the computer industry .
  • The fourth generation. Thanks to the miniaturization of integrated circuits, the invention of the processor and microprocessor took place in 1971 and with it a new computing revolution. The chips and microchips turned out to be cheap, powerful and efficient, and their semiconductor technology allowed the development of small, practical and powerful computers. Commercial computers are already becoming an inseparable part of life and work, and their first open network connections begin, which will give rise to the Internet in 1990.
  • The fifth generation. From this point on, it becomes very difficult to properly identify the generations of computers, since there are revolutionary changes constantly happening. But the appearance of fast information carriers (CD, DVD, Flash drive), of new interconnection protocols , and long after smartphones, tablets and a whole world of touch and wireless computing (without cable), are clear signs that starting in the 2000s a new generation of computers flooded the markets.

What will be the traits of the sixth generation? We do not know yet. There are those who point to quantum computers, or to artificial intelligence, as their possible future paths, but only time will tell if they were right.

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