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History of Computers and Personal Computing

History Of Computers

The earliest existence of a modern day computer's ancestor was the abacus. These date back to almost 2000 years ago. It is simply a wooden rack holding parallel wires on which beads are strung. When these beads are moved along the wire according to "programming" rules that the user must memorize, all ordinary arithmetic operations can be performed. The next innovation in computers took place in 1694 when Blaise Pascal invented the first "digital calculating machine". It could only add numbers and they had to be entered by turning dials. It was designed to help Pascal's father who was a tax collector.

In the early 1800's, a mathematics professor named Charles Babbage designed an automatic calculation machine. It was steam powered and could store up to 1,000 50-digit numbers. Built into his machine were operations that included everything a modern computer would need. It was programmed by, and stored data on, cards with holes punched in them, appropriately called "punch cards". But his inventions became failures because of the lack of precision machining techniques used at the time and the lack of demand for such a device.

By the late 1930s punched-card machine techniques had become so well established and reliable that Howard Hathaway Aiken, in collaboration with engineers at IBM, undertook construction of a large automatic digital computer based on standard IBM electromechanical parts. Aiken's machine, called the Harvard Mark I, handled 23-digit numbers and could perform all four arithmetic operations. The Mark I was controlled from pre-punched paper tape. The outbreak of World War II produced a desperate need for computing capability, especially for the military. In 1942, John P. Eckert, John W. Mauchley, and their associates at the University of Pennsylvania decided to build a high-speed electronic computer to do the job. This machine became known as ENIAC, for "Electrical Numerical Integrator And Calculator". It could multiply two numbers at the rate of 300 products per second, by finding the value of each product from a multiplication table stored in its memory. ENIAC was thus about 1,000 times faster than the previous generation of computers.

ENIAC used 18,000 standard vacuum tubes, occupied 1800 square feet of floor space, and used about 180,000 watts of electricity. It used punched-card input and output. The ENIAC was very difficult to program because one had to re-wire it to perform whatever task he wanted the computer to...

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