Types of Computers & Their Functions

By Peyton Brookes

Computers are used for a variety of applications---from scientific data recording to engineering to everyday personal use. As a result, computer functions and the models themselves vary based on usage and application. Several types of computers exist with functions ranging from complex scientific calculations such as weather monitoring and tracking to processing simple tasks such as surfing the Internet and checking email.


The "Father of Supercomputing," Seymour Cray, built the first supercomputer in 1963 called the CDC 6600, according to Cray Inc. He founded the company Cray Research to focus on engineering supercomputer systems. Supercomputers provide the fastest processing speed of any computer. Used for highly complex calculations, supercomputers possess extreme processing capabilities. For example, the Jaguar, a Cray Inc. supercomputer, operates at 1750 Teraflops (floating point operations per second) at peak performance---which means the system can calculate 1,750,000 Gigabytes per second. Supercomputers work behind the scenes to drive the most advanced information research forward. They are used for various highly specified applications including weather research, quantum physics, nuclear weapon detonation simulations and a class of problems called the "Grand Challenge problems," a set of problems requiring a high-performance computer.

Mid-Range or Minicomputers

The mid-range computer, originally called the minicomputer and currently called a server, is between a microcomputer and mainframe computer (as related to size and power). The term "minicomputer" developed during the 1960s to describe computers that utilized transistor technology. During the 1970s and 1980s, the development of microcomputers---or desktops---placed minicomputers in the mid-range designation. They were considered a more powerful single-user machine. True minicomputers began to decline, however, due to a less-expensive minicomputer that used microprocessor technology. Mid-range computers provide processing services for several applications. They are used to run back-end applications such as enterprise email, database systems and network-wide antivirus software.

Microcomputers or Personal Computers

Considered the first desktop, the HP 9830, which was released for consumer use in the 1970s, surpassed computers at the time because it featured a hard drive and utilized the BASIC programming language. Microcomputers are the most common consumer device. This computer type includes desktop personal computers and laptops. Microcomputers use a microprocessor to execute instructions and are designed for use by one individual. They are used for office applications, email, Internet access, gaming or education.