Computers - Generation of computers, Computer Terminologies, Supercomputers and its Applications

The computer is an electronic programmable machine for processing, storing and displaying information. Computers have two major characteristics; first, it responds to the specific set of instructions in a proper manner, and second, it can execute a program (pre recorded list of instructions) in a well defined manner. Present day computers are electronic and digital, and they can be instructed to carry out sequences of arithmetic and logical operations through computer programming.

Generation of Computers

Generation of computers refers to the technological evolution and advancement happened over the period of time. The term “generations” was initially used to differentiate between different hardware technologies, however now it is used for both hardware and software. With the evolution of each new generation of computers, the computer circuitry, size and its parts become miniaturized, while the processing speed, memory increases, and its reliability and usability improves.

First generation computers (1946-1959):

First generation computers used large devices like vacuum tubes as circuitry and magnetic drums for memory. They used machine language as the basic programming language. These were large, inefficient materials and generated large amount of heat, used huge electricity and caused frequent breakdowns. These machines were able to solve only one problem at a time.

  • The input of these computers was based on punch cards and paper tape. Output came out on printouts.
  • These computers were programmable only in machine language and had limited primary memory.
  • The popular first generation computers include the ENIAC (1946), EDSAC (1949), EDVAC (1950), UNIVAC (1951), IBM 701, and IBM 650.

Major drawbacks of first generation computers are

  • First generation computers where large bulky and had a slow operating speed.
  • These machines used large electricity and caused frequent breakdowns.
  • They had no operating system and their programming capability was very less.

Second generation computers (1956-1963):

In the second generation computers, vacuum tubes were replaced by transistors which was invented in 1947. Transistors were a big improvement to the vacuum tubes, which made them faster, smaller, cheaper and less heavy on electrical use. The primary memory of these computers was stored on the magnetic cores and magnetic tape. Magnetic disks were used as secondary storage devices.

  • The input language in the second generation computers evolved from the cryptic binary languages to the symbolic assembly languages in which the instructions could be given in alphanumeric coding (words). Early versions of high level languages such as COBOL and FORTRAN developed.
  • Operating system software was introduced in the second generation computers.
  • Examples of second generation computers include IBM 1620, IBM 7094, CDC 3600, UNIVAC 1108, Honeywell 400 BC.

Third generation computers (1964-1971):

Third generation computers used integrated circuits microchip of transistors. The Integrated circuit used a large number of transistors, resistances, capacitors and other circuit elements that make up a computer. Computers became smaller, more reliable and consumed far less power.

  • These computers used keyboards and monitors which interfaced with an Operating System for input and output operations.
  • These machines were capable of running several applications at once using a central program.
  • Computers became smaller in size and cheaper in cost making them accessible to the mass audience.
  • Examples of third generation computers include Honeywell 6000, IBM 370 / 168, IBM 360 series, Personal Data Processor (PDP) etc.

Fourth generation computers (1971- Present):

Fourth generation computers used microprocessors or Very Large Scale Integrated (VLSI) circuits technology in place of 3rd generation integrated circuits. The first microprocessor was developed by Intel in 1971. Intel 4004 chip developed in 1971, positioned all the components which include CPU, memory, input/output controls and thousands of integrated circuits in a single small chip.

  • The microprocessors had almost about 5000 transistors which were capable of performing high level computations.
  • These were compact, cheap, but powerful machines which required small amount of electricity to run.
  • Supercomputers were developed in this generation which could perform several calculations accurately.
  • Higher and more complicated languages such as C, C+, C++, DBASE etc., were used to provide input to these computers.
  • Examples of fourth generation computers include STAR 100, PDP 11, DEC 10 CRAY-X-MP (supercomputer) etc.

Fifth generation computers:

Fifth generation computers, also referred to as thinking machines are based on artificial intelligence which can think and make decisions like humans. These computers are still in a developmental stage but some of the technologies are emerging such as voice recognition technology etc.

  • Artificial intelligence uses parallel processing technology and superconductors.
  • In future, quantum computation, nanotechnology, and molecular technology will transform the computer devices.
  • Fifth generation computers using these technologies will create machines having the capability to respond, learn and organise to natural languages.
  • Artificial intelligence projects are being developed by Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Tesla.

Computer Terminologies

  • Android- Android is a mobile operating system based on the Linux kernel developed by Google. Android has been primarily designed for touch screen smartphones, mobile devices and tablet computers.
  • Anti-virus software: anti-virus software also known as anti-malware is a computer program that identifies threat, prevents and removes computer virus and other malicious softwares.
  • Application software: application software refers to computer software which are designed for performing coordinated functions, task, and activities, and for solving user’s problems. For example word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and email applications etc.
  • Adware: it refers to computer software packages which are designed for automatically rendering online advertisements on the screen of the user for generating revenue for its developer.
  • Artificial intelligence: artificial intelligence, also called as machine intelligence refers to computer devices and software, or computer controlled robots which have the capability to think logically, learn from observations, and demonstrate intelligence in a manner similar to human intelligence.
  • Barcode: barcode refers to an optical, machine readable representation of data which consists of a small image of parallel black lines and spaces of varying width which can be read by a scanner. Barcodes are used for quick identification of products used in retail stores etc.
  • Bit: it is the short form abbreviation for “binary digit”, which is the smallest unit of data used for computing purposes. It has a single binary value of 0 or 1. The cluster of 8 bits is called Byte.
      • 8 bits = 1 Byte
      • 1024 bytes = 1 Kilobyte (KB)
      • 1024 KB = 1 Megabyte (MB)
      • 1024 MB = 1 Gigabyte (GB)
      • 1024 GB = 1 Terabyte (TB)
      • 1024 TB = 1 Petabyte (PB)
  • Blog: A blog is an updated informational website, online journal or web page published on World Wide Web which is run by an individual or a small group, often written in an informal diary-style or conversation style. Information is displayed in reverse chronological order where the latest post appears first at the top of the blog.
  • Bluetooth: it is a protocol which allows a wireless exchange of data between computers and other electronic devices within short distances using short wavelength UHF radio waves.
  • Cookie: an HTTP cookie or browser cookie refers to a small amount of data sent to user's web browser when the user visits internet websites.
  • CPU: Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the electronic circulatory of the computer which controls the entire system and performs basic arithmetic, logic, input/ output operations.
  • Crash: it refers to a serious computer failure in which the computer stops working itself and the program aborts unexpectedly without the user's fault.
  • Debugging: it is the process of identifying and removing the defects and problems from the computer hardware or software which prevents the correct working of the computer system.
  • Database management system: it refers to the computer program which allows data to be stored, organised, manipulated, and retrieved logically as per the requirements.
  • Encryption: it is the process of encoding messages and data to prevent it from unauthorised access. Only the authorised parties can access the information after encryption.
  • Ethernet: it is a type of network interface system which connects several computers to form a local area network which has protocols for controlling the passage of information.
  • Firewall: it is a network security system for protecting any network or system from unauthorised access. It monitors and controls the ingoing and outgoing traffic and creates a barrier between the trusted internal network and the untrusted external networks such as internet.
  • GIF: Graphic Interchange Format (GIF) is a file format which allows images and pictures to be compressed for sending it quickly.
  • JPEG: it is the most common image format  for storing and transmitting images which are used in digital cameras, photographic image capture devices.
  • HTTP: Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is the protocol used by World Wide Web for moving hypertext files and messages across the internet. It defines how messages are formatted and transmitted, and the actions are taken by the web servers and web browsers in response to different commands.
  • HTML: Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is the standard markup language used for creating web pages and various web applications. It is the authoring language for creating documents on the World Wide Web.
  • Hard disk: hard disk, hard drive or fixed disk, refers to an electromechanical data storage device which uses magnetic storage for storing and retrieving any digital information.
  • Internet protocol: it is the protocol or set of rules which governs the format of data sent over the internet or any other network. Every computer connected on the internet has at least one unique IP address which identifies it on the internet.
  • Internet service provider (ISP): it is the business organisation that provides internet and related services to the users.
  • Local area network (LAN): it is the computer network which connects computers within a limited area such as a office building, school or university campus.
  • Multimedia: it is the content which uses a combination of different communicative media such as audio, video, text animation and interactive content.
  • Router: it is the networking device which routes information it receives that are intended for other networks. It analysis the contents of data packets transmitted within a network and transmits it to the destination node without storing it.
  • Scanner: it is a device that optically scans paper images such as printed text, handwriting or any picture and converts it into a digital image which can be stored, modified or distributed on computers and other electronic devices.
  • Spam: it refers to irrelevant and undesired electronic messages typically sent on the internet or any other networks to a large number of users for spreading malware, phishing and for online advertisement etc.
  • Search engine: search engine or web search engine is a software system which is designed for facilitating internet users to search content and information on the World Wide Web. Examples of search engines include Google, Bing, Yahoo etc.
  • Server: it is a type of computing device which provides service to other computer programs and manages the network resources. It provides functionality to other devices called clients. This model is known as the client-server model.
  • Uniform resource locator (URL): URL or web address is the address of a web resource which identifies its location on a network and has a mechanism for accessing it.
  • Virus / Malware: it is a type of malicious software which replicates itself by modifying other computer programs and by inserting its own code. Computer virus or Malware can have several motives such as seeking profit, spying, sabotage and denial-of-service etc.
  • Virtual reality: t is the use of computer technology for creating an artificial simulated environment in which users are immersed and they interact with 3D worlds. Uses can sense many senses such as vision, hearing, touch etc, and the computer works as the controller of this virtual reality. Users use devices such as goggles, gloves, earphones and other inbuilt sensors.
  • WAN: Wide Area Network (WAN) is a computer network or telecommunication extending over a large geographical area. It connects many smaller networks such as Local area networks, Metro area networks and other network devices etc.
  • World Wide Web (WWW): World Wide Web is the universe of network accessible information which connects a network of servers on the internet using hyperlink database and files. It combines all the resources and users on the internet that use HTTP.


Supercomputers and its Applications

Supercomputer is a computer having great speed and memory capable of doing jobs much faster than other computers of its generation. These have high level computing performance and it is measured in FLOPS (floating point operations per second). Their memory is usually 25000 times of any normal computer and its performance is generally evaluated in petaflops.

  • There are two types of supercomputers; the first one has very complex and expensive processor for carrying out computations one at a time.
  • The second type of supercomputers achieves supercomputing speed by parallely connecting large number of simple, inexpensive processes.

History of supercomputers

  • In 1957, Seymour Cray in control data Corporation built the first supercomputer for the United States Department of Defence.
  • The first supercomputer which replaced vacuum tubes with transistors was CDC 1604.
  • In 1964, the supercomputer CDC 6600 was built having a performance of 3 FLOPS.
  • Earlier, supercomputers had very few processes but now parallel processing is used for building supra fast supercomputers.
  • The top 3 supercomputers of the world are Sunway TaihuLight of China with speed of 93 petaflop/s, the MilkyWay-2 (Tianhe-2) of China with a speed of 33.8 petaflop/s, and Titan of the USA with a speed of 17.5 petaflop/s

Supercomputers in India

  • India started the development of supercomputers in the 1980s after the denial of import of Cray supercomputers from the USA due to the arms embargo imposed on India after India's first nuclear test in 1974.
  • Param 8000 was the first supercomputer developed by India in 1991. It was developed by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing. It was installed at ICAD Moscow with Russian collaboration.
  • Today  SAHASRAT (SERC - CRAY XC40) is the most powerful supercomputer of India having the speed of 1.2 petaflop/s.

Next Generation Computing

Next generation computing technologies under development include Optical computing, DNA computing, and Quantum computing.

  • Optical computing will use optical devices and connections for achieving calculation speed close to the speed of light.
  • DNA computing well recombine DNA in a parallel environment for calculations achieving next generation supercomputing speed.
  • Quantum computing is the third category of next generation supercomputing, though presently it is not under practical use.

Applications of Supercomputers

  • Weather research: supercomputers use the data from space satellites, airplanes and ground weather stations for accurate prediction of future weather conditions.
  • Academic research: supercomputers are used for academic research in astrophysics, quantum mechanics etc.a
  • Space exploration: for accurate analysis of data from space satellites, space research stations etc., requires supercomputing speed. Supercomputer was used for predicting the collision of a comet with Jupiter in 1994.
  • Aerodynamics: super computers are used for stimulating the passage of air around different parts of the aircraft. This is necessary for proper designing of aircraft.
  • Big data mining: supercomputers are used for big data mining and analysing its results.
  • Medical science: supercomputers are used for decoding the genetic data, and for research and development of new drugs for different diseases.
  • Nuclear research: simulation using supercomputing speed is used for simulating the results of nuclear bombs. Supercomputers used for research purposes for nuclear power plants. They simulate nuclear fission and fusion processes for developing better nuclear infrastructure.
  • Oil exploration: Oil Companies use supercomputers for analysing a large amount of data for determining the most productive oil exploration sites.
  • Movies: special effects in many movies are produced using supercomputers. Movies like Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Asteroid, Jurassic Park etc., used supercomputers for generating special effects.


For the development of future supercomputers in India, Government of India has launched the National Supercomputing Mission for creating a cluster of 73 supercomputers with an estimated cost of rupees 4500 crores. It will connect various academic and Research institutions, and these supercomputers will be networked on the National Supercomputing grid over the National Knowledge network.

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