Sure, you've got Dells and Acers and Apples, but types of computers extend well beyond the brand names written on their boxes. Ever since the abacus rolled out its first equation, computers have been evolving into distinct category types.
In fact, nailing down 10 types of computers hardly does the history of computing any sort of justice. So get ready for more types of computers than you can hold with two hands, but remember that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
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While today's computers are digital, the first computer – widely agreed to have taken the form of the abacus in the 14th century – was analog. Following the abacus, devices like the slide rule, Pascaline and Jacquard loom – all of which used mechanical devices to make calculations – and other analog computers thrived until the invention of the mechanical-digital computer by Charles Babbage and Ada Byron in 1850. Digital computers fall more in line with what Merriam-Webster defines as a computer today: "a programmable usually electronic device that can store, retrieve and process data."
The title of this one should clue you in. A supercomputer is a computer or collective computer system that can process enormous amounts of data, especially relative to other machines of its time (i.e., your iPhone would've been a supercomputer in the 1950s). Some supercomputers comprise more than 100 individual computers.
To give you an idea of the scale, the U.S. government's $200 million Summit system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the world's fastest supercomputer as of 2018. Summit's 36,000 processors can perform 200 quadrillion calculations per second; calculations Summit can achieve in an hour would take the home computer you may be reading this on about 30 years to accomplish.
While not quite a supercomputer, a mainframe computer is a powerful, multi-user computer that supports hundreds or even thousands of simultaneous users. Today, this is typically used in a commercial environment. In fact, servers – including database servers, Web servers, transaction servers, email servers and more – are all types of mainframes.
However, as computers become more compact and powerful, thus capable of acting in a mainframe-like capacity, mainframe computing may also refer to a style of computing rather than a type of device. Similarly, the minicomputer is less powerful than a mainframe, but still capable of supporting hundreds of simultaneous users, while the workstation is a powerful single-user computer.
Beyond 10 Types of Computer
What was first known as a "microcomputer" is now what we call a personal computer. This type of computer is powered by a microprocessor (or, nowadays, a few) and typically caters to single-user functions. Desktops and laptops? Yep, those are microcomputers.
But here's where we really go beyond just 10 types of computers. As microprocessors continue to miniaturize, the form factor of the personal computer has absolutely exploded leading up to the 21st century and beyond. Once you start getting into types of microcomputers, you'd better hold your breath – smart phones, tablets, smart watches, smart TVs, home and portable gaming consoles, many wearables, smart speakers and even your smart fridge are all microcomputers (or contain microcomputers). And you can bet that list will grow before it shrinks.