Introduction to Computers
taught by Timothy J. Hickey
Computer Science Dept.
Brandeis University
Autumn 1998

Origins and Development of Computer Systems

Early Computing Machines

The early computing machines were primarily devices for performing arithmetic calculations such as addition and multiplication.

The first generation of electronic computers

In the 1940's the first electronic computers were designed and implemented. These machines would typically fill an entire room and were constructed using thousands of vacuum tubes.

The Second generation: Transistor-based computers

In the last 50's, the transistor was used to replace vacuum tubes and computers became smaller, faster, and more reliable. The 60's saw the development of Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) chips which contained hundreds of thousands of transistors.

The Third generation: Integrated Circuits, Mainframes, Minicomputers, and Operating Systems

The Fourth Generation: Personal Computers and Workstations

During the 80's, the personal computer market developed and personal computers became one of the fastest growing markets for computers.

The Fifth Generation: Supercomputers, Parallel Computers, Meta-computers

In the 80's, the supercomputer model was challenged by the parallel computation model, and this trend has continued into the 90's. A parallel machine consists of several moderately fast computers that are connected in some manner that allows them to work cooperatively on a single problem. The most common model of parallel computer these days consists of off-the-shelf workstations connected by an extremely fast network.

The late 90's: Embedded Computing and the World Wide Web

In the late 90's we are seeing the spread of computers into almost all objects we interact with. These smart devices have the potential to dramatically change the way we interact with our environment, for better or worse. The 90's have also seen the rise of the world wide web.


  1. A Brief History of Computer Technology: Generations
    -- from the Computational Science Education Project
  2. A Chronology of Digital Computing Machines (to 1952)
  3. Computers: History and Development -- Jones Telec. and Multimedia Encycl.
  4. "Modern Operating Systems," Andrew S. Tanenbaum, Prentice Hall, 1992.

Related Sites

  1. The ENIAC website at UPenn
  2. Charles Babbage Institute Center for the History of Computing
  3. the Virtual Museum of Computing at Oxford University
  4. Computers: From the Past to the Present
    by Michelle A. Hoyle, CS Grad Student at U. of Sussex