By Vangie Beal
A computer is a programmable machine. The two principal characteristics of a computer are: It responds to a specific set of instructions in a well-defined manner and it can execute a prerecorded list of instructions (a program).
Modern Computers Defined
Modern computers are electronic and digital. The actual machinery — wires, transistors, and circuits — is called hardware; the instructions and data are called software.
All general-purpose computers require the following hardware components:
In addition to these components, many others make it possible for the basic components to work together efficiently. For example, every computer requires a bus that transmits data from one part of the computer to another.
Computer Classification: By Size and Power
Most people associate a personal computer (PC) with the phrase computer. A PC is a small and relatively inexpensive computer designed for an individual use. PCs are based on the microprocessor technology that enables manufacturers to put an entire CPU on one chip.
Personal computers at home can be used for a number of different applications including games, word processing, accounting and other tasks.
Computers are generally classified by size and power as follows, although there is considerable overlap. The differences between computer classifications generally get smaller as technology advances, creating smaller and more powerful and cost-friendly components.
An emerging trend that attempts to go beyond the binary limitations of traditional computing is quantum computing
Recommended Reading: Webopedia’s Computer Architecture Study Guide is an introduction to computer system basics.
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