A computer is an electronic device that manipulates information, or "data." It has the ability to store, retrieve, and process data. You can use a computer to type documents, send email, and surf the Internet. You can also use it to handle spreadsheets, accounting, database management, presentations, games, and more.
Whether you realize it or not, computers play an important role in our lives. When you withdraw cash from an ATM, scan groceries at the store, or use a calculator, you're using a type of computer.
For beginning computer users, the computer aisles at an electronics store can be quite a mystery, not to mention overwhelming. However, computers really aren't that mysterious. All types of computers consist of two basic parts:
Hardware is any part of your computer that has a physical structure, such as the computer monitor or keyboard.
Software is any set of instructions that tells the hardware what to do. It is what guides the hardware and tells it how to accomplish each task. Some examples of software are web browsers, games, and word processors.
Anything you buy for your computer can be classified as either hardware or software. Once you learn more about these items, computers are actually very straightforward.
The first electronic computer, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), was developed in 1946. It measured 18 feet by 80 feet and weighed 30 tons.
What are the Different Types of Computers?
There are many types of computers, but personal computers such as desktop and laptop computers are probably the two type of computers that you think of first.
Many people use desktop computers, or desktops as they are often referred to, at work, home, school, or the library. They can be small, medium, or large in style, and usually sit on a desk. The term desktop actually refers to the casing, or the tower. Once you add a monitor, mouse, and a keyboard, you have what is typically known as a desktop computer.
Most desktop computers are easy to upgrade and expand, or add new parts. In addition to expandability, another benefit of desktop computers is the cost. If you compare a desktop computer with 128 MB of RAM and a 2 GB hard drive to a laptop with the same features, you will most likely find that the desktop computer is priced lower.
The term desktop computer originated when the computer case was wide and flat, and was designed specifically to fit on your desktop with the monitor on top.
The second type of computer that you may be familiar with is a laptop computer, or laptops as they are often referred to. Laptops are battery or AC-powered personal computers that can be easily carried and used in a variety of locations.
A quick glance at the size of a laptop and you might guess that it would be difficult to expand or upgrade. While the desktop computer case is relatively easy to open and access internal components, the small laptop case makes this more difficult in comparison; however, the primary benefit of a laptop computer is its small size and easy portability.
Types of Personal Computers
Two popular types of personal computers are the IBM compatible and Macintosh computers. The first personal computer was produced by IBM in 1981 and was called the IBM PC. In 1984, Apple Computer introduced the Macintosh, or Mac, and it became the first widely sold personal computer with a graphical user interface or GUI (pronounced gooey). Although both IBM and Apple computers are personal computers, the term PC came to refer to IBM or IBM-compatible personal computers.
Apple now produces a Macintosh computer called the iMac, which is a desktop computer that features an all-in-one design. This means all the internal components are located behind the monitor, rather than in a tower case, which is customary in desktop computers.
While our training is intended for people who use PCs and the Windows operating system, some of our information also applies to Macintosh computers.
Other Types of Computers
You may hear someone refer to a computer as a workstation or a server, especially at work. You may wonder how these two items are different from desktop computers.
Workstations are similar to desktop computers, but are more powerful and are usually connected to a network. Servers are specialized computers that store and deliver, or “serve up,” information to other computers on a network.
There are many different types of servers such as file servers, database servers, and web servers. For example, employees at a company might store all the business documents on a file server so that they can share files and access then from any computer on the network. When you use your browser to click a link, a web server delivers the page you requested on the Internet, the biggest network in the world.