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A Long Way From Univac

Can you imagine a world without computers? You most probably interact
with some form of a computer every day of your life. Computers are the most
important advancement our society has ever seen. They have an interesting
history, many interesting inner components, they are used nearly everywhere, and
continue to advance incredibly fast. Because the field of computers is so broad,
this paper will focus mainly on personal computers.

Although computers have been evolving for quite some time, they really
didnt gain popularity until the introduction of the personal computer. In 1977,
Steve Jobs, co-founder of the Apple Computer Company, unveiled what is
generally considered to be the first personal computer, the Apple II. This
computer was introduced on April 16, 1977, at the First West Coast Computer
Faire, in San Francisco. In 1981, the International Business Machines Company
introduced the first IBM PC. Unlike Apple, IBM used a policy of open
architecture for their computer. They bought all of their components from the
lowest bidder, such as the 8086 and 8088 microprocessor chips, made by a Intel,
a Hillsboro, Oregon company. When IBMs computers design had been finalized,
they shared most of the inner workings of the computer with everyone. IBM hoped
that this would encourage companies to manufacture computers that were
compatible with theirs, and that in turn, would cause software companies to
create operating systems, or OS, and other programs for the IBM Compatible
line of computers. One of the computer manufacturers was a Texas company called
Compaq. A company called Dell Computers was the first factory direct computer
seller. A small Redmond, Washington company called Microsoft made a large
amount of software for the IBM Compatible line of computers. This open
architecture policy of IBM was not without its flaws, however. IBM lost some
business to the clones who could offer more speed, more memory, or a smaller
price tag. IBM had considered this an acceptable loss. One of the few
components of the IBM PC that was kept from the clone manufacturers was the
Basic Input Output System, or BIOS. This program, which was usually etched
permanently on a chip, controlled the interactions between the internal hard and
floppy drives, the external drives, printers, and monitors, etc. Clone
manufactures had to make their own versions of an input output system. Some
manufacturers copied the IBM BIOS exactly, such as Eagle Computers, and Corona
Data Systems. This is one adverse affect that IBM had not thought of. However,
all of IBMs copyright violation lawsuits against these companies ended in IBMs
favor. IBM has continued to grow to this day, however, the clone manufacturers
make far more personal computers than IBM, while IBM makes more business
machines, and the Power PC microprocessor, used in Macintosh computers. IBM
clone are now made by Packard Bell, Sony, Acer, Gateway 2000, and more. The
clones have continued to use software and operating systems made by Microsoft,
including: DOS (Disk Operating System), Windows, Windows 95, and Windows NT.
The clones also primarily use microprocessors manufactured by Intel, including
the 8086, 8088, 80286, 80386, 80486, Pentium and Pentium Pro, which offer speeds
over 200 megahertz, and will be even faster in the near future (Silver 7-28).

Apple took a somewhat different course during this period. Not willing
to enter the IBM clone manufacturing market, Apple continued to make their own
kind of computers. They made minor improvements on the Apple II line, but
eventually decided they needed to make a new type of computer. They first
introduced the Apple III in September of 1980. It was a dismal failure. The
first buyers encountered numerous system errors and failures, because of a poor
OS. Besides that, it was poorly manufactured, with improperly fitting circuitry,
loose wires and screws, etc. The later released Apple III+ did poorly because
of its brothers poor debut. The next big release was the Lisa in January of
1983. It was the first personal computer with a mouse, and nice graphic
capabilities. Experiments showed that it was 20 times as easy to use as the IBM
PC, and it drew enormous praise from computer magazines. It had flaws too,
however. It strained the power of the aging Motorola 68000 microprocessor, so
it lost in speed tests to the IBM PC. It also came with a $10,000 price tag,
over twice as much as most IBM clones. The Lisa failed, not as catastrophically
as the Apple III, but failed, nevertheless. Apple had but one more ace up their
sleeve, and they released it in January of 1984. They called it the Macintosh,
and it was very popular. Apple still uses the Macintosh series of computers to
this day. In 1995, Apple finally allowed other companies to use their OS, and
manufacture clones. Some clone manufacturers include: Power Computing, Umax,
Radius, and Motorola. Unlike IBM, Apple still sells more computers than its
clones, but Power Computing is steadily gaining in sales. Macintoshes and Mac
clones use System 6, System 7, System 7.1, System 7.5, and System 7.6, all made
by Apple. Macintoshes and their clones use microprocessors manufactured by
Motorola, including, 68000, 68881, 68020, 68030, 68040, and the Power PC 601,
603, and 604, made by Motorola and IBM, with speeds up to 225 megahertz, and a
603e, available in January of 1997, operating at 300 megahertz (Hassig 45-68)

Computers have many interesting components, including: motherboards,
microprocessors, FPUs (Floating Point Unit), hard disk drives, floppy disk
drives (5.25 and 3.5), CD ROM drives (Compact Disc Read Only Memory),
cartridge drives, ROM chips (Read Only Memory), RAM (Random Access Memory), VRAM
(Video Random Access Memory), NuBus or PCI expansion cards (Peripheral
Complement Interface), monitors, keyboards, mice, speakers, microphones,
printers, network systems, and modems. The motherboard is what the
microprocessor, FPU, ROM, RAM, VRAM and all the circuitry are attached to. The
microprocessor, also called a CPU (Central Processing Unit) and FPU are what
everything goes through, and tell what to do with data. Most CPUs operate from
2.5 megahertz (MHz, millions of cycles per second) to 300 MHz. The hard disk
holds large amounts of data for a long time. Most hard disks can hold from 1
megabyte (MB) to 10 gigabytes (GB). *NOTE: (1 GB is 1,024 MB, 1 MB is 1,024
kilobytes (K), 1 K is 1,024 bytes, 1 byte is 8 bits, and a bit is an on/off code
(binary code uses 0 for off and 1 for on), therefore a 10 GB hard disk can have
8,589,934,592 bits!). Floppy disks are for putting small amounts data on, and
being able to take them with you. The old 5.25 disks held a few K of data,
while the new 3.5 type holds 800 K or 1.4 MB. CD ROMs are relatively new.
They have very fine lines on their surface read by a laser, and can usually hold
650 MB of data (which is unchangeable). CD ROM drives range in disc reading
time from 1X (real time, 150 K/sec) to 15X (2.2 MB/sec). Cartridges store large
amounts of data and are removable, like floppy disks. They can store up to 1 GB,
and come in all shapes and sizes, each type with a different drive. ROM is
unchangeable data soldered on the motherboard. RAM is memory the computer uses
for immediate access, such as open applications. Everything on the RAM is lost
when the computer is shut down. VRAM is used to display a higher resolution or
greater color depth on the monitor. 512 K or 1 MB is the standard amount on most
computers, and 8 MB is the most available. The resolution ranges from 400 by
300 pixels to 1,920 by 1,440 pixels. The color depth ranges from 1 bit (black
and white) to 36 bit (68,719,476,470 colors). NuBus and PCI expansion cards add
special features to computers, such as receiving TV transmissions. Monitors
display images given to them by VRAM. They range in size from 9 to 21 inches
diagonally. Keyboards input data into the computer. Mice have a track ball
that moves around inside, causing a cursor to move across the screen. Speakers
amplify the sound output of a computer. Microphones allow sounds to be recorded
on a computer. Printers allow computers to put data on paper. Network systems
allow data to be easily transmitted from one computer to another. Modems allow
data to be transmitted through telephone wires. They have variable speeds from
300 bytes per second (BPS) to 57,600 BPS (Rizzo 5-21).

Today, computers are utilized in just about every field imaginable. A
caution for the future of computers is that they could go berserk or, if they
had a working artificial intelligence, they could make mankind completely
obsolete. Computers have evolved, and will continue to evolve faster than any
tech technology to date. Therefore, it is impossible to fathom where computers
will be in a thousand, or even a hundred years. One thing, however, is certain:
computers are the most important advancement our society has ever seen.


Rizzo, John and K. Daniel Clarke. How Macs Work. New York: Ziff-Davis
Press, 1996.

Hassig, Lee, Margery A. duMond, Esther Ferrington, et al. The Personal
Computer. Richmond: Time Life, 1989.

Silver, Gerald A. and Myrna L. Silver. Computers and Information
Processing. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993.

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