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.
- 3000 BCE: the Abacus
- 1642: Blaise Pascal and the Pascaline
- 1820: the Joseph-Marie Jacquard loom
- 1822: Charles Babbage, Augusta Ada and the Difference Engines
- 1889: Herman Hollerith and Punch Cards
- 1936: Alan Turing and the Turing Machine
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.
- 1940: John V. Atanasoff
- 1941: Konrad Zuse
- 1943: the Colossus
- 1944: the ENIAC
- 1945: John von Neumann, the EDVAC, and the Stored Program Computer
- 1951: the ERA 1103 (designed partly by
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
- 1956 the Stretch and LARC computers using Transistors
- 1956 Univac 1103A
- 1958 IBM 1401 and IBM 7094
The Third generation: Integrated Circuits, Mainframes, Minicomputers, and Operating Systems
- Mainframes (leading to supercomputers)
- 1960: CDC 1604 mainframe
- 1964: IBM System/360 mainframe computer
- 1976: Cray 1 supercomputer 10M multiplications/sec
- 1985: Cray XMP 1G mults/sec
- Minicomputers (leading to workstations)
- 1961: DEC PDP-1, minicomputer, 4K 18-bit words of memory, $120,000
- 1969: UNIX developed by Kenneth Thompson on PDP-7
- 1973: UNIX almost complete rewritten in new language C for PDP-11
- 1975: UNIX license
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.
- 1972: HP introduces HP-35 handheld scientific calculator (slide rules are obsolete)
- 1975: Altair Personal Computer, 256 bytes of memory, no disk, screen, or keyboard: $400.
Bill Gates wrote a BASIC interpreter for the Altair.
- 1981: IBM PC introduced with MS-DOS software (64K bytes of memory,
160K byte floppy, screen and keyboard. Flat file system
- 1982: IBM PC/XT: with a hard disk and hierarchical file system.
- 1984: IBM PC/AT: 16M bytes of memory, 1.2M byte floppy, 10 Mb hard disk.
- 1987: IBM PS/2: with MS-DOS or OS/2
- 1991: Microsoft drops OS/2, IBM drops Microsoft
- Workstations (Here we follow just a few companies.)
- 1982: Sun Microsystems introduces Sun-1 workstation (running UNIX)
- 1982: Hewlett-Packard introduces the HP-9000 desktop mainframe
- 1984: Silicon Graphics ships first workstations (running UNIX)
- 1989: Sun introduces SPARCstation 1, 12.5 MIPS
- 1995: Sun releases the Java language
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
The most common model of parallel computer these days consists
of off-the-shelf workstations connected by an extremely fast network.
- Cray - vector machines
The high end of the computing market was the domain of the supercomputers.
Cray championed the monolithic supercomputer and often had the fastest
and most powerful central processing units in the world.
- Sequent --
Sequent was a typical early pioneer in this commercial market and
sold machines with around 16 processors that had a single shared memory.
- BBN butterfly--
The BBN butterfly was a more powerful machine with up to 128 computers connected
by a very fast, highly interconnected network.
- Thinking Machines "Connection Machine" - massive paralleism
The Connection Machine continued
this trend and contained 65,536 custom-made computers connected using a 16 dimensional
- IBM SP --
this consists of up to a few hundred off-the-shelf IBM workstations connected via a fast
- ASCI Red --
this consists of about 10,000 Pentium Pro processors connected in a
pair of 2D grids. This latter machine is part of a program by the defense department
to develop computers that can simulate nuclear warhead explosions from first
principles, and thereby diminish the need for testing in the development and
maintenance of our nuclear weapon stockpile.
- The internet as a supercomputer -- recently large numbers of computers communicating
over the internet have been used to solve extremely complex problems.
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.
- answering machines
- credit cards
The ENIAC website at UPenn
Charles Babbage Institute Center for the History of Computing
the Virtual Museum of Computing at Oxford University
Computers: From the Past to the Present
by Michelle A. Hoyle, CS Grad Student at U. of Sussex