The Evolution of Computer Hardware


The evolution of computer hardware has been amazing. Just as amazing is how little many of the computer users of today know much about that evolution.

Size of Computers – Main Frame Computers
For the first twenty years, all computers were the mainframe type. The computer had to be in an air conditioned room that was also dust proof. Some first mainframes had no disk drive but used tape drives instead. The computer room floor was typically raised at least eight to ten inches off the level of the floor. This was necessary to allow cross wiring of components of the computer. Monitors were large and bulky cathode-ray type.

Input for data took place with punched cards. If you understand the format of the IBM punch card, you will find understanding computer programming much easier. Outside the mainframe room were keypunch machines that allowed computer programs to be entered onto a series of punch cards. This data was fed into the mainframe computer by a keypunch reading machine.

The Evolution of Computer Hardware

Output was done to tape drives or large printers that could print one full page at a time. Printers were hardly more than giant efficient typewriters controlled by the mainframe computer.

The mainframe computer is not dead but its use is regularly restricted to very large corporations. The traditional tasks of the mainframe are now handled in most companies by powerful personal computers. The idea of the mainframe computers grew up to be massive super computers that do uncountable trillions of calculations every nanosecond.

Personal Computers
Amazingly, before the first workable personal computers were born, some types of calculator had become programmable. Hewlett Packard, the HP of today, had a hand-held computing calculator that stored programs and data on a small magnetic strip. These devices were used mostly in research labs and by petrophysical engineers. During the search for energy these devices were amazing and great time savers.

In the late 1970s the first basic personal computers were born. They had very little memory and a giant, LP record size disk for reading and writing data, thus the term “floppy disk”.

Personal computer monitors were downsized CRT screens. Some monitors had a large slot on the side of the front. This was to accept the giant floppy disk. The next change to data storage was a much smaller disk, but it was still fragile and floppy in nature. In the mid-1980s the last version of the floppy disk was introduced. It was encased in a plastic cover with an aluminum slide open window for access by the personal computer.

Disk space on personal computers was limited. The introduction of external disk drives in the early 1980s was a welcomed improvement. Movement of data from one computer to another was difficult and cumbersome. Often the only way to quickly transfer data from one computer to another was to directly hardwire them together. This was not easy and to use the term quick or fast was a joke.

When the ARPANET became the Internet in the early 1980s many things started to change. Data could now be emailed from one computer to another. This led to the demand for an easier, less Internet dependent, form of data transfer. The availability of small flash drives made data storage and portability possible. Today portable flash drives can hold tens of gigabytes of data. Larger flash drives are now replacing Hard Disk Drives in laptops and even in desktop personal computers.

With the advent of software that allowed the GUI, graphic user interface, the hardware mouse showed up on the desk. The Xerox Lisa, bought by Apple adopted this hardware for the new Macintosh line of computers in 1984.

At the end of the 1990’s the first wireless technology hardware began to appear. Now you can have all your computer equipment with no wires interconnected.

In the early 1980’s the first laptop computer appeared. Made by a company in Dallas, named GRID, it was designed for the American astronauts for use in space. Before the availability of the GRID computer, the astronauts had no orbital display. Only mission control in Houston had access to the large images of the orbits that many Americans might remember. In 1983 Apple introduced its first laptop and soon after a tsunami of other brands and models followed into the market.

Once we had small flat screens on laptops the pressure was on hardware manufacturers to give us big flat screen replacements for desktop computers. Thanks to technological advances in the television industry most computers of all types switched to flat screens. The only place you can find a CRT monitor these days is in the store room of a pawn shop or collectors rack.

What the future will bring is really hard to imagine. There is talk of computer glasses and other amazing ideas. For certain the future will bring an array of amazing changes to every type of hardware that helps computer users get their work done.

About the Author: This is a guest post from Megan Horner. Megan works for a training organization named TrainACE. TrainACE specializes in IT certification training classes such as Security+, A+ and Network+ .

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