Differences Between an Analog Computer & Digital Computer

By Joey Liam

There are several differences between analog and digital computers, but the main difference is the limitation of usage of the analog types. Analog computers were popular in the 1940s, but they are now less utilized because of the development of digital computers. Analog computers' main use is to perform highly specialized and restrictive functions in businesses, while digital computers offer more flexibility in terms of business and personal applications.

Computing Power

Analog computers are limited to performing restrictive and specialized mathematical calculations such as the measurement and analysis of electrical voltages. Digital computers, however, are not limited to these types of applications, but have a more general purpose in terms of usage. They are widely available to consumers because of their functionality and portability, while analog computers are mostly for business applications.

Storage Capacity

Analog computers are not built to store massive amounts of data, but they can perform various complex computations with other analog devices if they are linked together with a plug board. Digital computers can equally perform diverse computations, but extensive data storage is one of their noticeable advantages over analog computers. This is mainly because of the compatible devices developed for digital computers, such as flash drives and other storage equipment.

Computing Methodology

Digital computers perform their data calculations through the manipulation of binary bits (ones and zeroes). This means that they convert the constants and variables of any mathematical equation into simplified information, such as words, instructions and numerical measurements, to come up with the precise solution. The way analog machines work is that they model or imitate real world physical systems, such as a floating voltage source analyzer. They can be extremely fast at calculating and solving various equations of such units, but digital computers are overall considered the more accurate data calculators.

Physical Design

Depending on the purpose, analog computers can really be huge in size, like the one built in 1955 to measure natural gas flow. It literally covered almost 2,000 square feet of space and it ran 6,000 industrial compressor systems. If the same task is to be done digitally today, it can easily be performed by a minicomputer with a processor of average speed. The size difference is huge between these two types of computers, but the disparity in processing power is even greater.