Computers have evolved over the years starting from 1940 when the first generation of computers was invented. The small, portable and convenient computers we have nowadays weren’t always the usual from the beginning. The computers then were massive and could fill up an entire room.
Improvements were made to the size, speed, accuracy and cost of the older computers which led to the fast, efficient and portable generation of computers we now use.
The different generations of computers
There are five generations of computers rising from 1940 till date. Below is the list of generations, the technologies each used and their features;
The first generation computers (1940 – 1956)
The main technology used in the first generation of computers was vacuum tubes. The computers were really large, slow and couldn’t be moved around easily. Their main memory was magnetic tapes and magnetic drums which had a low storage capacity. They filled up an entire room and required a lot of electricity to function. They used machine language and had no operating system which made programming very tiresome. The input and output devices included paper tape and punch cards.
The first generation computers were mainly used for storage, calculation and control purposes. Examples included ENIAC, UNIVAC, EDVAC, EDSAC, IBM-650, etc.
The second generation computers (1956 – 1963)
The second generation of computers evolved to the use of transistors as their main technology. This made them perform more efficiently and faster. It also decreased the size, cost and power consumption of the computers. Input and output units, central processing unit (CPU) and memory programming language were introduced in the second generation. Magnetic cores and magnetic tapes were used as storage devices. The programming languages used were assembly languages and some high-level programming languages like FORTRAN and COBOL which made programming less difficult.
The input and output devices included punched cards and magnetic tape. Examples of second generation computers included UNIVAC 1107, IBM 7090, IBM 7094, CDC 3600, etc.
The third generation computers (1964 – 1971)
The main technology of the third generation of computers was integrated circuits. This included varieties of transistors, registers and capacitors stationed on silicon chips. This led to an increase in the speed and reliability of third generation computers. It also provided a lower cost and size for the computers. The storage devices used were a large magnetic core and magnetic disk which offered a higher storage capacity. The programming languages used were high-level programming languages like BASIC, COBOL, FORTRAN-II, ALGOL-68, etc.
Mini computers were introduced in the third generation. The input and output devices included printers, monitors, mouse, keyboards, magnetic tape, etc. Examples of third generation computers included IBM 360, IBM 370, UNIVAC 1108, PDP – 11, etc.
The fourth generation computers (1971 – 1980)
The fourth generation of computers was introduced with microprocessors as their main technology which consists of large-scale integration (LSI) circuits built on a chip. This led to the production of smaller sizes of computers known as microcomputers with larger capacities and efficiency. The LSI circuits were later replaced by very large-scale integrated (VLSI) circuits.
It introduced functions that made it user-friendly like virtual memory, multiprogramming, multiprocessing, better operating speed, etc. The fourth generation of computers also introduced private and personal computers and networks. The memory used was semiconductor memory i.e. RAM, ROM, etc. The input and output devices include a keyboard, optical scanner, monitor, printer, pointing devices, etc.
They use high-level programming languages like DBASE, C, C++, etc. Examples of fourth generation computers include Apple II, Apple Macintosh, IBM PC, Altair-8800, etc. They are also still in use today.
The fifth generation computers (1980 – present)
The main technology of the fifth generation computers is Artificial Intelligence (AI) which makes computers function like humans. It uses ultra-large-scale integration (ULSI) technology and parallel processing hardware. They have the highest speed and smallest size and are the most efficient and reliable generation of computers. They are also of a lower value compared to the former computer generations.
They understand natural language and support all high-level languages like Java, C++, C, etc. They use multi-threaded and distributed operating systems. Their input and output devices include a keyboard, light scanner, mouse, monitor, printer, touchpad, pen, speech input, etc.
Examples of fifth-generation computers include laptops, tablets, desktops, smartphones, Chromebook, notebooks, etc. They include the computers you and I use today.