Computers in the early 1950s and 1960s - History Essay Example

Computers in the early 1950s and 1960s

There were two generations of computers developed in the 1950s and 1960s—the so-called first generation and second-generation computers.


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The first generation of computers started approximately in the late 1940s. The typical characteristic of these computers is their electromechanical mechanisms and being partly programmable. Computers using the random access memory (RAM) are included in this generation. In terms of size, these are physically smaller than Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC). They are the size of a large piano and use only 2,500 electron tubes, whereas ENIAC uses 18,000. Other computers in this group of computers include the following (The History of Computing Project):

Manchester MARK-I – This type of computer is historically significant due to its inclusion of what is called an index register in its architecture. This was also the platform on which high level computer languages like the Autocode was developed.
EDVAC – This type of computer is binary (unlike its predecessor ENIAC which is decimal). It can perform automatic addition, subtraction, multiplication, programmed division, as well as automatic checking with a memory capacity of 1,000 44-bit words. In its development, this was later set to 1,024 words (in modern times, this memory capacity is equivalent to 5.5 kb).
UNIVAC – this is the first American commercial computer and was used initially for business and administrative use (primarily for efficient and fast execution of large numbers but basically simple arithmetic). UNIVACs computed against punch-card machines.
Others – German engineers Z3 computer which was used to design airplanes and missiles; Colossus, a code-breaking computer from the UK; and an all-electronic calculator designed by a Harvard engineer to create ballistic charts for the U.S. Navy.
The common characteristic of this generation of computers is the fact that they are specifically made for one, and only one, specific purpose. They have different binary-coded program (machine language) which limits its versatility and speed.

            A significant development in the world of computing occurred in 1948. This is the invention of transistor, which was first applied to a computer in 1956. This new invention when used in advanced magnetic-core memory resulted to smaller, faster, more reliable, and more energy efficient computers. This application defined the start of second generation computers. Examples of second generation computers are the following:

IBM Stretch (aka IBM 7030 Data Processing System) – This has driven advances in many key computer technologies like core memory, transistor circuit design, and circuit packaging. This has also pioneered many features like interrupts, memory error detection and correction, memory interleaving, memory protection, multiprogramming, pipelining, immediate operands, instruction prefetch, operand prefetch, speculative execution, write buffer, and result forwarding (Computer History Museum).
LARC (Livermore Atomic Research Computer) – this was developed for government’s advanced research purposes. One was created for Lawrence Radiation Labs in Livermore, CA, for use in atomic research, and another was installed at the David Taylor Model Basin, which later became the Naval Ships Research and Development Center (BookRags, 2007)
The two computers mentioned above were both for atomic energy research. They could handle enormous amounts of data. However, due to expensive cost, this was never used for the private business sector. Other commercially manufactured computers were used in business, universities, and also government for the rest of 1960s. Starting 1965, a number of large firms processed their financial data by using computers.

Works cited:

BookRags. Date accessed: August 26, 2007.

Computer History Museum. Date accessed: August 26, 2007.

The History of Computing Project. Date accessed: August 26, 2007.

1940s – Early 1950s: First Generation Computers. Date accessed: August 26, 2007.

Late 1950s – Early 1960s: Second Generation Computers. Date accessed: August 26, 2007.


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