Fandom

Microsoft Wikia

Computer

856pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Talk0 Share
File:Columbia Supercomputer - NASA Advanced Supercomputing Facility.jpg
File:HPLaptopzv6000series.jpg

A computer is a programmable machine that receives input, stores and manipulates data//information, and provides output in a useful format.

While a computer can, in theory, be made out of almost anything (see misconceptions section), and mechanical examples of computers have existed through much of recorded human history, the first electronic computers were developed in the mid-20th century (1940–1945). Originally, they were the size of a large room, consuming as much power as several hundred modern personal computers (PCs).[1] Modern computers based on integrated circuits are millions to billions of times more capable than the early machines, and occupy a fraction of the space.[2] Simple computers are small enough to fit into mobile devices, and can be powered by a small battery. Personal computers in their various forms are icons of the Information Age and are what most people think of as "computers". However, the embedded computers found in many devices from MP3 players to fighter aircraft and from toys to industrial robots are the most numerous.

Misconceptions

A computer does not need to be electric, nor even have a processor, nor RAM, nor even hard disk. The minimal definition of a computer is anything that transforms information in a purposeful way.

Required technology

Computational systems as flexible as a personal computer can be built out of almost anything. For example, a computer can be made out of billiard balls (billiard ball computer); this is an unintuitive and pedagogical example that a computer can be made out of almost anything. More realistically, modern computers are made out of transistors made of photolithographed semiconductors.

Historically, computers evolved from mechanical computers and eventually from vacuum tube transistors.

There is active research to make computers out of many promising new types of technology, such as optical computing, DNA computers, neural computers, and quantum computers. Some of these can easily tackle problems that modern computers cannot (such as how quantum computers can break some modern encryption algorithms by quantum factoring).

Computer architecture paradigms

Some different paradigms of how to build a computer from the ground-up:

RAM machines
These are the types of computers with a CPU, computer memory, etc., which understand basic instructions in a machine language. The concept evolved from the Turing machine.
Brains
Brains are massively parallel processors made of neurons, wired in intricate patterns, that communicate via electricity and neurotransmitter chemicals.
Programming languages
Such as the lambda calculus, or modern programming languages, are virtual computers built on top of other computers.
Cellular automata
For example, the game of Life can create "gliders" and "loops" and other constructs that transmit information; this paradigm can be applied to DNA computing, chemical computing, etc.
Groups and committees
The linking of multiple computers (brains) is itself a computer

Logic gates are a common abstraction which can apply to most of the above digital or analog paradigms.

The ability to store and execute lists of instructions called programs makes computers extremely versatile, distinguishing them from calculators. The Church–Turing thesis is a mathematical statement of this versatility: any computer with a certain Turing-complete is, in principle, capable of performing the same tasks that any other computer can perform. Therefore any type of computer (netbook, supercomputer, cellular automaton, etc.) is able to perform the same computational tasks, given enough time and storage capacity.

Limited-function computers

Conversely, a computer which is limited in function (one that is not "Turing-complete") cannot simulate arbitrary things. For example, a simple four-function calculators cannot simulate a real computer without human intervention. As a more complicated example, without the ability to program a gaming console, it can never accomplish what a programmable calculator from the 1990s could (given enough time); the system as a whole is not Turing-complete, even though it contains a Turing-complete component (the microprocessor). Living organisms (the body, not the brain) are also limited-function computers designed to make a copies of themselves; they cannot be reprogrammed without genetic engineering.

Virtual computers

A "computer" is commonly considered to be a physical device. However, one can create a computer program which describes how to run a different computer, i.e. "simulating a computer in a computer". Not only is this a constructive proof of the Church-Turing thesis, but is also extremely common in all modern computers. For example, some programming languages use something called an interpreter, which is a simulated computer built on top of the basic computer; this allows programmers to write code (computer input) in a different language than the one understood by the base computer (the alternative is to use a compiler). Additionally, virtual machines are simulated computers which virtually replicate a physical computer in software, and are very commonly used by IT. Virtual machines are also a common technique used to create emulators, such game console emulators.

History of computing

The first use of the word "computer" was recorded in 1613, referring to a person who carried out calculations, or computations, and the word continued to be used in that sense until the middle of the 20th century. From the end of the 19th century onwards though, the word began to take on its more familiar meaning, describing a machine that carries out computations.[3]

Limited-function ancient computers

File:Jacquard.loom.full.view.jpg

The history of the modern computer begins with two separate technologies—automated calculation and programmability—but no single device can be identified as the earliest computer, partly because of the inconsistent application of that term. Examples of early mechanical calculating devices include the abacus, the slide rule and arguably the astrolabe and the Antikythera mechanism (which dates from about 150–100 BC). Hero of Alexandria (c. 10–70 AD) built a mechanical theater which performed a play lasting 10 minutes and was operated by a complex system of ropes and drums that might be considered to be a means of deciding which parts of the mechanism performed which actions and when.[4] This is the essence of programmability.

The "castle clock", an astronomical clock invented by Al-Jazari in 1206, is considered to be the earliest programmable analog computer.[5] It displayed the zodiac, the solar and lunar orbits, a crescent moon-shaped pointer travelling across a gateway causing automatic doors to open every hour,[6][7] and five robotic musicians who played music when struck by levers operated by a camshaft attached to a water wheel. The length of day and night could be re-programmed to compensate for the changing lengths of day and night throughout the year.[5]

The Renaissance saw a re-invigoration of European mathematics and engineering. Wilhelm Schickard's 1623 device was the first of a number of mechanical calculators constructed by European engineers, but none fit the modern definition of a computer, because they could not be programmed.

First general-purpose computers

In 1801, Joseph Marie Jacquard made an improvement to the textile loom by introducing a series of punched paper cards as a template which allowed his loom to weave intricate patterns automatically. The resulting Jacquard loom was an important step in the development of computers because the use of punched cards to define woven patterns can be viewed as an early, albeit limited, form of programmability.

It was the fusion of automatic calculation with programmability that produced the first recognizable computers. In 1837, Charles Babbage was the first to conceptualize and design a fully programmable mechanical computer, his analytical engine.[8] Limited finances and Babbage's inability to resist tinkering with the design meant that the device was never completed.

In the late 1880s, Herman Hollerith invented the recording of data on a machine readable medium. Prior uses of machine readable media, above, had been for control, not data. "After some initial trials with paper tape, he settled on punched cards ..."[9] To process these punched cards he invented the tabulator, and the keypunch machines. These three inventions were the foundation of the modern information processing industry. Large-scale automated data processing of punched cards was performed for the 1890 United States Census by Hollerith's company, which later became the core of IBM. By the end of the 19th century a number of technologies that would later prove useful in the realization of practical computers had begun to appear: the punched card, Boolean algebra, the vacuum tube (thermionic valve) and the teleprinter.

During the first half of the 20th century, many scientific computing needs were met by increasingly sophisticated analog computers, which used a direct mechanical or electrical model of the problem as a basis for computation. However, these were not programmable and generally lacked the versatility and accuracy of modern digital computers.

Alan Turing is widely regarded to be the father of modern computer science. In 1936 Turing provided an influential formalisation of the concept of the algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, providing a blueprint for the electronic digital computer.[10] Of his role in the creation of the modern computer, Time magazine in naming Turing one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, states: "The fact remains that everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine".[10] Template:Fix bunching

File:Z3 Deutsches Museum.JPG

Template:Fix bunching

File:Classic shot of the ENIAC.jpg

Template:Fix bunching

File:EDSAC (10).jpg

Template:Fix bunching

80486dx2-large

Die of an Intel 80486DX2 microprocessor (actual size: 12×6.75 mm) in its packaging.

Template:Fix bunching

The inventor of the program-controlled computer was Konrad Zuse, who built the first working computer in 1941 and later in 1955 the first computer based on magnetic storage.[11]

George Stibitz is internationally recognized as a father of the modern digital computer. While working at Bell Labs in November 1937, Stibitz invented and built a relay-based calculator he dubbed the "Model K" (for "kitchen table", on which he had assembled it), which was the first to use binary circuits to perform an arithmetic operation. Later models added greater sophistication including complex arithmetic and programmability.[12]

A succession of steadily more powerful and flexible computing devices were constructed in the 1930s and 1940s, gradually adding the key features that are seen in modern computers. The use of digital electronics (largely invented by Claude Shannon in 1937) and more flexible programmability were vitally important steps, but defining one point along this road as "the first digital electronic computer" is difficult.Shannon 1940 Notable achievements include.

  • Konrad Zuse's electromechanical "Z machines". The Z3 (1941) was the first working machine featuring binary arithmetic, including floating point arithmetic and a measure of programmability. In 1998 the Z3 was proved to be Turing complete, therefore being the world's first operational computer.[13]
  • The non-programmable Atanasoff–Berry Computer (1941) which used vacuum tube based computation, binary numbers, and regenerative capacitor memory. The use of regenerative memory allowed it to be much more compact than its peers (being approximately the size of a large desk or workbench), since intermediate results could be stored and then fed back into the same set of computation elements.
  • The secret British Colossus computers (1943),[14] which had limited programmability but demonstrated that a device using thousands of tubes could be reasonably reliable and electronically reprogrammable. It was used for breaking German wartime codes.
  • The Harvard Mark I (1944), a large-scale electromechanical computer with limited programmability.
  • The U.S. Army's Ballistic Research Laboratory ENIAC (1946), which used decimal arithmetic and is sometimes called the first general purpose electronic computer (since Konrad Zuse's Z3 of 1941 used electromagnets instead of electronics). Initially, however, ENIAC had an inflexible architecture which essentially required rewiring to change its programming.

Stored-program architecture

Several developers of ENIAC, recognizing its flaws, came up with a far more flexible and elegant design, which came to be known as the "stored program architecture" or von Neumann architecture. This design was first formally described by John von Neumann in the paper First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC, distributed in 1945. A number of projects to develop computers based on the stored-program architecture commenced around this time, the first of these being completed in Great Britain. The first working prototype to be demonstrated was the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM or "Baby") in 1948. The Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC), completed a year after the SSEM at Cambridge University, was the first practical, non-experimental implementation of the stored program design and was put to use immediately for research work at the university. Shortly thereafter, the machine originally described by von Neumann's paper—EDVAC—was completed but did not see full-time use for an additional two years.

Nearly all modern computers implement some form of the stored-program architecture, making it the single trait by which the word "computer" is now defined. While the technologies used in computers have changed dramatically since the first electronic, general-purpose computers of the 1940s, most still use the von Neumann architecture.

Beginning in the 1950s, Soviet scientists Sergei Sobolev and Nikolay Brusentsov conducted research on ternary computers, devices that operated on a base three numbering system of −1, 0, and 1 rather than the conventional binary numbering system upon which most computers are based. They designed the Setun, a functional ternary computer, at Moscow State University. The device was put into limited production in the Soviet Union, but supplanted by the more common binary architecture.

Semiconductors and microprocessors

Computers using vacuum tubes as their electronic elements were in use throughout the 1950s, but by the 1960s had been largely replaced by transistor-based machines, which were smaller, faster, cheaper to produce, required less power, and were more reliable. The first transistorised computer was demonstrated at the University of Manchester in 1953.[15] In the 1970s, integrated circuit technology and the subsequent creation of microprocessors, such as the Intel 4004, further decreased size and cost and further increased speed and reliability of computers. By the late 1970s, many products such as video recorders contained dedicated computers called microcontrollers, and they started to appear as a replacement to mechanical controls in domestic appliances such as washing machines. The 1980s witnessed home computers and the now ubiquitous personal computer. With the evolution of the Internet, personal computers are becoming as common as the television and the telephone in the household[citation needed].

Modern smartphones are fully programmable computers in their own right, and as of 2009 may well be the most common form of such computers in existence[citation needed].

Programs

The defining feature of modern computers which distinguishes them from all other machines is that they can be programmed. That is to say that some type of instructions (the program) can be given to the computer, and it will carry process them. While some computers may have strange concepts "instructions" and "output" (see quantum computing), modern computers based on the von Neumann architecture are often have machine code in the form of an imperative programming language.

In practical terms, a computer program may be just a few instructions or extend to many millions of instructions, as do the programs for word processors and web browsers for example. A typical modern computer can execute billions of instructions per second (gigaflops) and rarely makes a mistake over many years of operation. Large computer programs consisting of several million instructions may take teams of programmers years to write, and due to the complexity of the task almost certainly contain errors.

Stored program architecture

Ad blocker interference detected!


Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.