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FAQ: The History of the Personal Computer

post #1 of 3
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Hi

DISCLAMIER: I know there are many different opions on the history of the personal computer. This is mine. I used many noob terms and this is a paper for my 8h grade class.



The History of the Personal Computer
Creating the personal computer has been a very hard accomplishment. There are three definitions of a personal computer: 1.) A Macintosh/Apple; 2.) I.B.M. compatible computer (today, generally called a personal computer, what my paper is about) and 3.) any computer that is not used for business or scientific use. There are many different opinions on how the personal computer was started as there were a lot of models that barely sold that could be considered the first. The first computers were never envisioned to be in the home; in fact, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, Ken Olson, said, “I can see no reason why an individual would want to own a personal computer.” That was when computers were used for business and scientific use. Now that statement seems ridiculous, but if you understand how the P.C. started, you will understand.
The first possibility of there being a personal computer was when the transistor was invented; however, the first era were big mainframes. The first mainframes were large and still expensive. They had no direct user interface; instead you would give the machine a task to do and then wait. This is called batch processing. An interface would be a card punch. It could take a very long time to get the results of the task because it would be processing other things at the same time. The second generation of mainframe computers had a graphical user interface. It had the mainframe connected to terminals which had keyboards, and allowed many users to share one system. The next idea was a “minicomputer”. It was characterized by the fact that one user would use it at a time. They were about the size of a refrigerator, very expensive (tens of thousands of dollars) and not made to have a home use. They were called minicomputers because they were
much smaller than mainframes and were made to be purchased by small businesses. These allowed business to not have to pay to use a university’s mainframe computer. In their later days, minicomputers got unique operating systems and high resolution graphics. Minicomputers could be considered the first personal computers, but since they were not made to be purchased by a person/used in a house, I do not believe so. The first generation of computers was never to be used by a individual person.
The computer took a huge leap forward to becoming personal when the microprocessor was invented. Microprocessors are integrated circuits that process information. They are also called CPUs. Before the microprocessor, computers had many integrated circuits that did its function. However, they were large and required many boards filled with integrated circuits. The microprocessor put all of those boards onto one chip, which reduced cost and size drastically. The first P.C. was almost Datapoint 2200. It was going to use the Intel 8008, the first computer microprocessor, however, there was a business issue between the two companies. Since the product was never delivered, it was made of discrete components. This P.C. effectively had the first microprocessor, but it wasn’t (it wasn’t a single unit) there. When it was closely examined, it was found to have he same architecture as the 8008. This is significant because all of the current processors are based on the 8008. The personal computer today could not have been made without the microprocessor.
The other group of people believe the Altair 8800 was the first personal computer because it was made for the home and had an 8008. It was very affordable (for then) when it was released. It was incomplete, however, because it had no direct keyboard or
video interface. It needed peripherals which gave access to those functions. It was a minicomputer that was “scaled down”. You would program the machine eight bits at a time and it took a long time and was very difficult. This machine got Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft) and Steve Jobs (founder of Apple) into computers. They made a BASIC (programming language) compiler and interpreter for it. If the Altair 8800 wasn’t around, there might never have been Apple or Microsoft.
These computer systems were based on expensive and then powerful microprocessors. What was needed was a low cost but decently powerful microprocessor. That is were the MOS 6502 series comes in. It was the basis for the Commodore64 (the best-selling computer even today), TRS-80, and the AppleII. This is when the non-IBM personal computer took off because the IBM ones were expensive. The Commodore64 was released to the public in 1982 at a low price of $595. It would get hooked up to your TV and had a printer, floppy drive, and tape drive. The IBM P.C. was already out when this was released. The IBM P.C. was more for business and this was more of a fun machine. This computer came with BASIC, and every aspect of it could be changed. The TRS-80 was sold exclusively at Radio Shack. It was released in 1977 at $600. It came with a tape drive to store information. It sold more than two hundred and fifty thousand. The AppleII was a very powerful computer for its day, too. My cousin remembers wanting one of these because it was “amazing”. It too ran the BASIC programming language and eventually had its own operating system. It was marketed towards novices and had floppy and tape drives. These P.C.s brought a P.C. to a practical location for many people.
The IBM P.C. (now just called personal computer) was first popular for business uses; however, it is now used more for entertainment. One of the first popular spreadsheet programs was VisiCalc. It made the P.C. a popular business tool. Before the IBM P.C. version came out, IBM purchased some AppleII computers to run it. The one application that made the IBM P.C. popular was Lotus 1-2-3. It was a spreadsheet inspired by VisiCalc. It had presentation graphics, simple data basing, and a spreadsheet. Many other business and word processing tools would follow. One of these was Microsoft Word. Surprisingly, it became popular on the AppleII. Without business software, the P.C. would have probably been considered a “mere toy” like the Commodore64 and earlier machines made for fun, not word processing.
The personal computer sets a category that will be defined after the release of its business software. The earlier personal computers were sometimes not considered personal computers because of their limited power. However, the more powerful computers could be compared with business machines. In the 1990s the personal computer became more a multimedia system than a business machine and also had enough CPU power to be considered powerful. It got operating systems, good interfaces, and standardized software that could be used on all machines. After the explosive business software market and the development of high quality video cards, programmers realized they could make good looking games. It has become more of a fun machine now due to digital cameras, high speed internet, and video games. The computer was never designed to be a fun machine but it eventually has become that through many years and generations.
There are three main parts to a computer that are very important and every computer must have them. The most important one is the CPU (central processing unit). The two main makers of CPUs are Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). The CPU processes information and makes everything work. Think of it as the brain. CPUs are now starting to be multicore, which means it is like having two CPUs in one. The next important part is the RAM (Random Access Memory). It is the quick and temporary storage. It cannot store information when the computer is off. It is extremely fast compared to the hard drive, which stores information when the computer is off. The hard drive is the third most important part. It stores information when the computer is off. It does this by energizing magnetic bits on platters and reading then. It is very slow compared to the temporary storage or RAM. These three parts control the main functions of your PC. There are other important parts, but they are not the most important.
There is one category of P.C. that has emerged over the years that has become very defined, the gaming P.C. The most important part of a gaming P.C. is the video card. The video card dictates how many times the image is drawn on the screen. Thirty or more frames per second is considered good; however, getting about sixty frames per second is considered a great standard. Gaming computers are usually the most powerful computers available. They need to be the most powerful because they usually run some of the most demanding tasks. Still, the fastest part in the gaming computer is the video card, then CPU, then RAM, and then finally the hard drive. Overclocking is getting a P.C. to run faster than its stock parts are rated. It is becoming more popular, although, it has been
“underground” for a long time. It is becoming so popular some magazines publish guides on overclocking and which parts are the best overclockers.
To say the least, this is a very short summary of what happened to be one of the most important times of American history. Without the personal computer, I would not be typing this report, the internet would have not been successful, and there would be a loss of many trees due to the paper needed to document things that are now stored electronically. There were the three generations of computers that were not personal and were bulky. It took word processors to make the computer popular. Once they got more powerful, then they got more multimedia functionality. Now most computers usage is to play games, upload photos, and go online. Now they are commonplace in American homes, and not owning a computer is almost an impossible thing to hear.
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post #2 of 3
The funny thing about your, "3.) any computer that is not used for business or scientific use", is that PC's are used by all businesses and scientists. When a scientist gets a hold of some cutting edge computer technology to do their work, it becomes outdated so quickly that somebody like yourself has it on his desk in two years. Programs like SETI and Folding are extremely ground breaking and they use thousands of personal computers to get their work done instead of some central "supercomputer".
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post #3 of 3
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I am writing this to people who have no clue what folding is
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