Computers are essential devices that you must have used while growing up. There are also pretty good chances that you still use a computer daily. Have you ever wondered what a computer really is? Do you know what the generation of computers is?
If you are curious to know the answer to these questions, that is great. In this article, we will answer both of these questions in great detail.
Let’s first begin with what the meaning of computers is. According to experts, a computer can be defined as an electronic device used for manipulating information or data. Computers also have the ability to store, retrieve and process information.
These days, people use computers for typing documents, playing games, sending emails and browsing the internet. One can also use these devices to create or edit presentations, spreadsheets and videos.
You might also be interested to know that the evolution of computers began sometime during the 1940s. At that time, the first generation of computers was created. Since then, experts have also developed other generations of computers. As of now, there are five generations of computers.
In the field of electronics and technology, generation is computer terminology. This term refers to the change that a computer goes through. Earlier, the term generation was used to differentiate between different hardware technologies. However, these days, generation can be used to refer to both software and hardware; these together form the entire computer system.
In the rest of the article, we will discuss these five computer generations. Before we jump on to the details, it is important to go through an overview of these generations. That essential overview is provided in the table mentioned below.
The First Generation of Computer
Now, let’s talk about the first generation of computers. As mentioned above, the period of the first generation of computers was from 1946 till 1959. This generation began when J. W. Mauchly and J. P. Eckert invented the first successful electronic computer. That computer was known as the ENIAC or the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer.
Some other examples of the first generation computers are EDVAC, IBM - 701, UNIVAC and IBM-650. These computers were made by using vacuum tubes. These were the only electronic components that were used during that time. The first generation computers could calculate in a matter of a few milliseconds.
There are also many disadvantages to this generation of computers. Some of those disadvantages are that they were very big in size and weighed at least 30 tones, these computers were very costly and were based on vacuum tubes.
These computers could only store a small amount of information. This was because of the presence of magnetic drums. The vacuum tubes also required a large cooling system and worked less efficiently.
The first generation computers only had limited programming capabilities. The punch cards were also used to take inputs. These devices also required a lot of energy and were not very reliable. Those devices also required constant maintenance.
Because of these reasons, the first generation computers were mainly used by large organizations that existed at that time. Also, machine codes were used as programming languages in those devices. This made working on those computers very hard.
The Second Generation of Computer
The second generation of computers began in 1959. The computers of this generation lasted till 1965. The defining feature of the second generation computers was that these devices were based on transistors instead of vacuum tubes.
Some examples of the second generation computers are Honeywell 400, CDC 1604, IBM 794, UNIVAC 1108 and CDC 3600. There are also advantages that were associated with this generation of computers. Those advantages are mentioned below.
These computers had better portability in comparison to the computers that were produced during the period of the first generation.
These computers came equipped with better speed as they could calculate data in a few microseconds.
The production cost of these devices was lower than the first generation computers.
For input, punch cards and assembly language were used.
These computers used less energy and did not produce as much heat when compared with the first generation computers.
In these computers, transistors were used instead of vacuum tubes. This meant that the size of the electronic component was reduced. This further resulted in smaller sized computers.
Irrespective of these advantages, these computers required a cooling system. These computers also required constant maintenance and could only be used for serving a specific purpose. It is also interesting to note here that these computers had a magnetic core.
These magnetic cores served as the primary memory. Magnetic tape and magnetic disks acted as secondary storage devices. Further, these computers used assembly language and high-level programming languages like COBOL and FORTRAN. Batch processing and multiprogramming operating systems were also used by these computers.
The Third Generation of Computer
Till now, we have covered the first and second generation of computers. Let’s look at the third generation of computers now. The third generation of computers began in 1965 and that period lasted till the year 1971.
It is interesting to note here that these computers were based on integrated circuits. The first integrated circuit was developed by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce. This was done in 1958-1959.
For readers, who are unfamiliar with the term, integrated circuits can be defined as a single component that contains a number of transistors. Also, some examples of the third generation computers are PDP - 11, PDP - 8, IBM 370, ICL 2900 and IBM 360.
The biggest benefit of these computers was that they were cheaper in comparison to the computers that were produced during the second generation. These devices were faster and more reliable.
These computers were also smaller in size as they used an integrated circuit. The integrated circuit also helps in improving the performance of computers as a whole. Further, the computers produced in this generation had a larger storage capacity.
This was also the time when mouse and keyboards were used as input instead of punch cards. These computers also used an operating system. This helped in better resource management and also used the concept of multiple programming and time-sharing.
The third generation computers also reduced the total computational time that was taken. Earlier, the computational time was microseconds, but with the introduction of these computers, the time was decreased to nanoseconds.
Sadly, the disadvantages of these computers included the fact that the integrated chips were quite difficult to maintain, air conditioning was also required and highly sophisticated technology was required for manufacturing integrated circuit chips in the first place.
During this generation, time-sharing, multiprogramming operating systems and remote processing were used. Also, high-level languages like PASCAL PL / 1, COBOL, FORTRAN - II TO IV, ALGOL - 68, and BASIC were used. All of this meant that these devices were still quite costly to obtain.
The Fourth Generation of Computer
After the introduction of the third generation of computers in 1965, the fourth generation of computers was introduced in 1971. The fourth generation of computers lasted till 1980. The defining feature of these computers was the fact that these computers were based on the technology of microprocessors.
If you don’t know what a microprocessor means, let us tell you what it means. A microprocessor is used in computers for performing any arithmetic and logical function. These functions are performed in various programs.
The Graphics User Interface or GUI technology also found its way in the fourth generation of computers. This technology was exponentially exploited to offer more comfort to all its users. Some examples of fourth generation computers are PUP 11, IBM 4341, STAR 1000 and DEC 10.
Now, let’s look at some benefits that were provided to users who bought fourth generation computers. Those benefits are mentioned below:
These computers did not require a lot of maintenance.
All the different types of high-level languages could be used in these computers.
These computers were smaller in size as a comparison to other computers of the previous generations.
The heat generated is almost negligible.
These devices performed faster computations.
There are also some disadvantages that were still present in fourth generation computers. Some of those disadvantages are:
More advanced technology was required to make integrated circuits.
Air conditioning was still required in many cases as integrated circuits were still present.
The design and fabrication of microprocessors was very complex.
It is interesting to note that the fourth generation computers also used Very Large Scale Integrated (VLSI) circuits. These Very Large Scale Integrated circuits had about 5000 transistors and many other circuit elements. This was in addition to associated circuits on a single chip. This also resulted in the development of microcomputers of the fourth generation.
The fourth generation computers were more powerful, reliable, compact and affordable than ever. These computers also gave rise to the Personal Computer (PC) revolution. The computers of this generation involved time sharing and distributed operating systems and real-time networks were also used.
These computers used all the major high-level languages like DBASE, C++, and C. These computers had pipeline processing, and the concept of the internet was also introduced at the same time. Computers were also more commonly used at this time than ever before.
The Fifth Generation of Computer
The fifth generation of computers began in 1980. There are many experts who state that fifth generation computers can still be found to this day. The computers of this generation were mainly based on artificial intelligence.
The primary aim of the fifth generation computers was to build a device that possessed the ability to respond to natural language input. These computers are also capable of self-organization and learning.
According to experts, the fifth generation computers are mainly based on ULSI or Ultra Large Scale Integration technology. This technology resulted in the production of microprocessor chips. These chips had ten million electronic components.
Some examples of the fifth generation computers are laptops, desktops, ultrabooks, Chromebook and notebook. These computers are more reliable and work faster than ever. These devices are available in different sizes and come with unique features.
Another great feature of these devices is that these devices have more user-friendly interfaces. These interfaces also have various multimedia features. However, these devices also required very low-level languages. There are many experts who also claim that these devices are doomed and will make human brains dull.
It is interesting to note that the VLSI technology was replaced with ULSI or Ultra Large Scale Integration during the fifth generation of computers. The ULSI technology was responsible for the production of microprocessor chips.
The high-level languages used in these devices are C++, C, .Net, and Java. These devices also included technologies like game playing, neural networks, robotics, natural language understanding, natural language generation, and the development of expert systems to make decisions in real-life situations.
This technology also led to the advancement of parallel processing, advancement in superconductor technology, more user-friendly interfaces with multimedia features and availability of very powerful and compact computers at cheaper rates.