What is a Computer? – Introduction to Computers

Before we learn how to use a computer we must understand what a computer is and the underlining concepts that allow computers to work.

At the most basic level a computer takes data (input) and processes it into information (output). Lets say you us a calculator to solve a 2 + 4. The numbers 2 and 4 are your input along with the plus (+) sign. The plus sign is an operator that tells the calculator how to process the input. The output will be 6. This is how computers work, everything you wish to do on a computer follows this principle.

ENIAC, the first general purpose computer.

ENIAC, the first general purpose computer.

Brief History of The Computer

Technically commuters have been around for thousands of years, but we are only interested in the past two hundred years.

Charles Babbage conceptualized programmable computers and began to build a Difference Engine in 1822. After building his Difference Engine, he thought it would be possible to have a system that used punch cards for input. This punch card system was called the Analytical Engine. Unfortunately Babbage died before he could get it working.

Ada Lovelace wrote the first algorithm for the Analytical Engine. Wist the Engine was not finished, Lovelace wrote what is attributed to be the first computer program.

These Difference and Analytical Engine are both mechanical computers. Though there where electronic computers near the beginning of the 1900s, the first general purpose electric computer was announced in 1946. This computer was named the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC). ENIAC combined the abilities that other earlier computers had and ran at a much faster speed.

Computers Today

Computers come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from so small that 150 of them can fit on your thumb (M3) to ones larger than ENIAC. The smallest computer we will be going over in this series is your cell phone and we will not be building server farms so we will not concern ourselves too much with size.

Computers have become such an integrated part of our society that it is almost impossible to get a job without knowing how to use one. Even cash registers have computers integrated into them.

Types of Computers

We will be going over several types of computers during this series. This includes:

Smart Phones:

Smart Phones have largely replaced standard phones for most things. These phones are computers that can connect to cell-phone networks and WiFi networks. This gives the phones the power to both access the internet and make phone calls. Smart Phones can run software to do anything that a desktop computer can, from playing games to doing your taxes.

Single-board Computers:

Single-board Computers have one circuit board with all of the components soldered to it. These boards are often used in manufacturing and hobbyist projects. The most notable computer of this type is the Raspberry Pi. These computers are often inexpensive and perfect for simple tasks like weather tracking. We will go over Raspberry Pi projects some time in the future.

Laptop and Desktop Computers:

Laptops are computers that have a folding screen that comes down over the keyboard. Laptops are more expensive and less powerful than Desktops, but run off battery power and are portable. Desktops are cheep and powerful, but are not as portable as laptops. Both run the same type of software and the same principles apply. This is the type of computer this series will focus on.

Next time we will go over the basic hardware that will be needed and how hook everything together.

For further reading you can read the Wikipedia pages for concepts we have covered:

Ada Lovelace

Charles Babbage and His Work in Computing

ENIAC

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