What Are the Five Main Categories of Computers?

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Mainframe computers power businesses with large transaction volumes.
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The computer age has brought about many advances in technology, including the increasing miniaturization of computers and components. However, the earliest computers were large machines, taking up lots of floor space and consuming large amounts of electricity. As computer technology has advanced there are more categories of computers, each with specific qualities and purposes. What once required a large room now fits in your hand and connects to other computers around the world.



Super computers are large computing machines that have enormous computing power, with many processors and large amounts of memory. These machines are typically used for scientific purposes, as they are great number crunchers. Their strength is in their speed, achieving exponential numbers of floating point operations per second, a typical computing measurement scale. Titan, one of the world's fastest supercomputers, has performed at 17.59 quadrillion calculations per second.


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At a slightly lower level than the supercomputer is the mainframe. Mainframes, contrary to much popular thought, are not dead, but are thriving in American businesses. Large insurance and financial firms rely on these large computers to process the massive volumes of transactions in each business day. Mainframes were the computer of choice in the 1960s and 1970s. Mainframes are distinguished by their speed and use of complex, powerful operating systems, easily serving thousands of users simultaneously.



The 1980s saw the advent and growth of smaller computers, often called microcomputers. As networks began to grow in companies, technology workers realized the need for centralizing data storage, email and print services, giving rise to the departmental server. Servers are much smaller than mainframes and more powerful than desktop workstations. They can serve hundreds of users at the same time and typically provide services to websites and company departments.


Personal Computers

Another development of the microcomputer wave of computing was the personal computer. Workstations provide individuals with computing power at the desk, using applications such as spreadsheets, word processors and presentation software. Laptops are essentially portable personal computers that have batteries for power and a screen that folds down into a compact book-like form. Workstations have become more powerful with advances in processor technology to the point that most desktop computing power is vastly underutilized.


Hand-held Computing Devices

Smartphones are forms of hand-held computing devices. Most computers in this category can easily slip into a pocket or purse, while another form, tablets, are more like small notebooks that use touchscreen technology for input, as do smartphones. Smartphones are multi-purpose devices providing phone service and Internet connectivity over wireless channels, bringing connectivity to an entirely new level.




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