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A computer is a machine that is designed to perform a huge variety of information-processing tasks, depending on the program it has stored in its memory. Computers manipulate all data in the form of numbers, and encode all numbers in either binary code, which is base 2, or in the case of quantum computers, trinary code which is base 3. Binary means that there can only be a 1 or a 0 in any data. This makes it possible to process data electronically, since one voltage can be used to represent a zero and another voltage for a one. Trinary systems are far more complicated, and still in development. The average personal or server computer uses binary.


Contemporary (1800's) illustration of what Charles Babbage's Difference Engine might have looked like.
The modern (1991) construction of the "difference engine 2" in the British Science Museum.

Prior to the advent of computing machines, the definition for computer was a human being who performed complex mathematical calculations. This was accomplished with the aid of a manual counting device, such as an abacus or a slide rule, and was mainly used by traders and early bankers to keep a reliable record of funds

Charles Babbage, a British scientist who lived in the 19th century, has been credited as the designer of the first digital computer, the Difference Engine, a machine set to do calculations reliably up to six decimal places. It was entirely mechanical. However, the Engine was never constructed, being deemed as "had derived no emolument whatsoever from the government" by a member of parliament. He also designed an even more sophisticated "Analytical Engine", that would actually have been a programmable computer in the modern sense; it, too was mechanical. Though it was never built, Augusta Ada wrote some programs for it (to compute Bernoulli polynomials), making her the world's first computer programmer. A small version of the Difference Engine, was built after his death by his son.[1]

Babbage later designed a simpler and even more clever "Difference Engine Number 2", that was also not completed in his lifetime. But in 1991, the bicentennial of Babbage's birth, this computer was built in the British Science Museum, from Babbage's original plans. It operates flawlessly, though a few billion times more slowly than modern electronic computers. It is operated by turning a crank.

The Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine is considered the world's first stored-program computer, 1948.

The first computer comparable to the modern day computer, an electronic calculation machine, was the ENIAC. Built as a artillery support machine, it was unveiled in early 1946.[2]



Personal computers are ones designed for use by a single user at any given time. These are the common desktop and laptop computers most people use today. Tablet computers could also be included in this general category. Some businesses will include person computers in a client-server network. In this system, the personal computers are used to connect with a main server computer (or in some cases, a server cluster).[3]


NASA's Mainfram computer (around 1962)

Mainframes were the first kind of computers, and always used to be the fastest option. They had the ability to process much more information at a faster rate than any other kind).[3] However, with the rapid advancement of technology in recent years, these have become largely obsolete. Since the modern laptop has more processing power than a mainframe of the 1990s, there is little point for the continued use of them. Mainframes also took up comparatively enormous amount of space, and consumed much more electricity. Some software was designed to run only on mainframes, however, so although largely obsolete, they still could have a limited functionality in some ways.


Supercomputers are the most powerful computers available, which have replaced mainframe computers. These computers, which generally full large rooms like mainframes, are generally used by government agencies and large corporations. Since these computers are so expensive, they are reserved for important and complicated computations such as nuclear simulations and weather modeling.[4] Quantum computers are also often considered supercomputers, due to their extensive capabilities (and size).


Dedicated computers are, as the name suggests, dedicated to a specific function. These can be almost anything from Video game consoles to a child's handheld toy. These are generally limited in functionality, since they are designed for their single task only.).[3]


Embedded computers are controllers built into the device they control. These are found in digital wrist watches, cars, landline telephones, and more.[3]

See Also

External Links


  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 The World Book Encyclopedia. 2001 ed. Vol. 4. Chicago: World Book, 2001. Print. Pages 908-94
  4. "Computer." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica Academic. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. <>.