Computers Compare and Constrast Essay

This essay has a total of 1885 words and 6 pages.


A common misconception about computers is that they are smarter than humans. Actually, the
degree of a computer¹s intelligence depends on the speed of its ignorance. Today¹s
complex computers are not really intelligent at all. The intelligence is in the people who
design them. Therefore, in order to understand the intelligence of computers, one must
first look at the history of computers, the way computers handle information, and,
finally, the methods of programming the machines.The predecessor to today¹s computers was
nothing like the machines we use today. The first known computer was Charles Babbage¹s
Analytical Engine; designed in 1834. (Constable 9) It was a remarkable device for its
time. In fact, the Analytical Engine required so much power and would have been so much
more complex than the manufacturing methods of the time, it could never be built.No more
than twenty years after Babbage¹s death, Herman Hollerith designed an electromechanical
machine that used punched cards to tabulate the 1890 U.S. Census. His tabulation machine
was so successful, he formed IBM to supply them. (Constable 11) The computers of those
times worked with gears and mechanical computation.Unlike today¹s chip computers, the
first computers were non-programmable, electromechnical machines. No one would ever
confuse the limited power of those early machines with the wonder of the human brain. An
example was the ENIAC, or Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer. It was a huge,
room-sized machine, designed to calculate artillery firing tables for the military.
(Constable 9) ENIAC was built with more than 19,000 vacuum tubes, nine times the amount
ever used prior to this. The internal memory of ENIAC was a paltry twenty decimal numbers
of ten digits each. (Constable 12) (Today¹s average home computer can hold roughly 20,480
times this amount.)Today, the chip-based computer easily packs the power of more than
10,000 ENIACs into a silicon chip the size of an infant¹s fingertip. (Reid 64) The chip
itself was invented by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce in 1958, but their crude devices looked
nothing like the sleek, paper-thin devices common now. (Reid 66) The first integrated
circuit had but four transistors and was half an inch long and narrower than a toothpick.
Chips found in today¹s PCs, such as the Motorola 68040, cram more than 1.2 million
transistors onto a chip half an inch square. (Poole 136)The ENIAC was an extremely
expensive, huge and complex machine, while PCs now are shoebox-sized gadgets costing but a
few thousand dollars. Because of the incredible miniaturization that has taken place, and
because of the seemingly "magical" speed at which a computer accomplishes its tasks, many
people look at the computer as a replacement for the human brain. Once again, though, the
computer can only accomplish its amazing feats by breaking down every task into its
simplest possible choices.Of course, the computer must receive, process and store data in
order to be a useful tool. Data can be text, programs, sounds, video, graphics, etc. Some
devices for entering data are keyboards, mice, scanners, pressure-sensitive tablets, or
any instrument that tells the computer something. The keyboard is the most popular input
device for entering text, commands, programs, and the like. (Tessler 157) Newer computers
which use a GUI (pronounced gooey), or Graphical User Interface, utilize a mouse as the
main device for entering commands. A mouse is a small tool with at least one button on it,
and a small tracking ball at the bottom. When the mouse is slid across a surface, the ball
tracks the movement on the screen and sends the information to the computer. (Tessler 155)
A pressure-sensitive tablet is mainly used by graphic artists to easily draw with the
computer. The artist uses a special pen to draw on the large tablet, and the tablet sends
the data to the computer.Once the data is entered into the computer, it does no good until
the computer can process it. This is accomplished by the millions of transistors
compressed into the thumb-nail sized chip in the computer. These transistors are not at
all randomly placed; they form a sequence, and together they make a circuit. A transistor
alone can only turn on and off. In the "on" state, it will permit electricity to flow; in
the "off" state, it will keep electricity from flowing. (Poole 136) However, when all the
microscopic transistors are interconnected, they have the ability to control, manipulate,
and move data according to the condition of other data. A computer¹s chip is so ignorant,
it must use a series of sixteen transistors and two resistors just to add two and two.
(Poole 141) Nevertheless, this calculation can be made in just a microsecond, an example
of the incredible speed of the PC. The type of chip mainly used now is known as a CISC, or
Complex Instruction Set Chip. (Constable 98)Newer workstation variety computers use the
RISC type of chip, which stands for Reduced Instruction Set Chip. While the "complex" type
might sound better, the architecture of the RISC chip permits it to work faster. The first
generation of CISC chip was called SSI, or Small Scale Integration. SSI chips have fewer
than one hundred components. (Reid 124) The period of the late 1960s is known as the era
of MSI, or Medium Scale Integration. MSI chips range from one hundred to one thousand
components each. (Reid 124) LSI, or Large Scale Integration, was used primarily in the
1970s, each chip containing up to ten thousand components. Chips used in the 1990s are
known as VLSI, or Very Large Scale Integration, with up to a million or more components
per chip. In the not-so-distant future, ULSI, or Ultra Large Scale Integration, will be
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