How Old Is This Computer ?

The history of computing hardware encompasses the hardware, its architecture, and its impact on software. The elements of computing hardware have undergone significant improvement over their history. This improvement has triggered worldwide use of the technology, performance has improved and the price has declined. Computers are accessible to ever-increasing sectors of the world's population. Computing hardware has become a platform for uses other than computation, such as automation, communication, control, entertainment, and education. Each field in turn has imposed its own requirements on the hardware, which has evolved in response to those requirements.

The von Neumann architecture unifies our current computing hardware implementations. Since digital computers rely on digital storage, and tend to be limited by the size and speed of memory, the history of computer data storage is tied to the development of computers. The major elements of computing hardware implement abstractions: input, output, memory, and processor. A processor is composed of control and datapath. In the von Neumann architecture, control of the datapath is stored in memory. This allowed control to become an automatic process; the datapath could be under software control, perhaps in response to events. Beginning with mechanical datapaths such as the abacus and astrolabe, the hardware first started using analogs for a computation, including water and even air as the analog quantities: analog computers have used lengths, pressures, voltages, and currents to represent the results of calculations. Eventually the voltages or currents were standardized, and then digitized. Digital computing elements have ranged from mechanical gears, to electromechanical relays, to vacuum tubes, to transistors, and to integrated circuits, all of which are currently implementing the von Neumann architecture.


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