Invention of the PC – HISTORY

Today’s personal computers are drastically different from the massive, hulking machines that emerged out of World War II–and the difference isn’t only in their size. By the 1970s, technology had evolved to the point that individuals–mostly hobbyists and electronics buffs–could purchase unassembled PCs or “microcomputers” and program them for fun, but these early PCs could not perform many of the useful tasks that today’s computers can. Users could do mathematical calculations and play simple games, but most of the machines’ appeal lay in their novelty. Today, hundreds of companies sell personal computers, accessories and sophisticated software and games, and PCs are used for a wide range of functions from basic word processing to editing photos to managing budgets. At home and at work, we use our PCs to do almost everything. It is nearly impossible to imagine modern life without them.

Invention of the PC: The Computer Age

The earliest electronic computers were not “personal” in any way: They were enormous and hugely expensive, and they required a team of engineers and other specialists to keep them running. One of the first and most famous of these, the Electronic Numerical Integrator Analyzer and Computer (ENIAC), was built at the University of Pennsylvania to do ballistics calculations for the U.S. military during World War II. ENIAC cost $500,000, weighed 30 tons and took up nearly 2,000 square feet of floor space. On the outside, ENIAC was covered in a tangle of cables, hundreds of blinking lights and nearly 6,000 mechanical switches that its operators used to tell it what to do. On the inside, almost 18,000 vacuum tubes carried electrical signals from one part of the machine to another.

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