Computer Basics for Beginners


Computers can be classified based on their principles of operation or on their configuration. By configuration, we mean the size, speed of doing computation and storage capacity of a computer.

Types of Computers based on Principles of Operation

There are three different types of computers according to the principles of operation. Those three types of computers are

  • Analog Computers
  • Digital Computers
  • Hybrid Computers

Types of Computers

Analog Computers

Analog Computer is a computing device that works on continuous range of values. The results given by the analog computers will only be approximate since they deal with quantities that vary continuously. It generally deals with physical variables such as voltage, pressure, temperature, speed, etc.

Digital Computers

On the other hand a digital computer operates on digital data such as numbers. It uses binary number system in which there are only two digits 0 and 1. Each one is called a bit.

The digital computer is designed using digital circuits in which there are two levels for an input or output signal. These two levels are known as logic 0 and logic 1. Digital Computers can give more accurate and faster results.

Digital computer is well suited for solving complex problems in engineering and technology. Hence digital computers have an increasing use in the field of design, research and data processing.

Based on the purpose, Digital computers can be further classified as,

  • General Purpose Computers
  • Special Purpose Computers

Special purpose computer is one that is built for a specific application. General purpose computers are used for any type of applications. They can store different programs and do the jobs as per the instructions specified on those programs. Most of the computers that we see today, are general purpose computers.

Hybrid Computers

A hybrid computer combines the desirable features of analog and digital computers. It is mostly used for automatic operations of complicated physical processes and machines. Now-a-days analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters are used for transforming the data into suitable form for either type of computation.

For example, in hospitalís ICU, analog devices might measure the patients temperature, blood pressure and other vital signs. These measurements which are in analog might then be converted into numbers and supplied to digital components in the system. These components are used to monitor the patientís vital sign and send signals if any abnormal readings are detected. Hybrid computers are mainly used for specialized tasks.

Types of Computers based on Configuration

There are four different types of computers when we classify them based on their performance and capacity. The four types are

Types of Computers

Super Computers

When we talk about types of computers, the first type that comes to our mind would be Super computers. They are the best in terms of processing capacity and also the most expensive ones. These computers can process billions of instructions per second. Normally, they will be used for applications which require intensive numerical computations such as stock analysis, weather forecasting etc. Other uses of supercomputers are scientific simulations, (animated) graphics, fluid dynamic calculations, nuclear energy research, electronic design, and analysis of geological data (e.g. in petrochemical prospecting). Perhaps the best known super computer manufacturer is Cray Research. Some of the "traditional" companies which produce super computers are Cray, IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

As of July 2009, the IBM Roadrunner, located at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is the fastest super computer in the world.

If you want to know more advanced details about super computers, refer to SuperComputers

Mainframe Computers

Mainframe computers can also process data at very high speeds vi.e., hundreds of million instructions per second and they are also quite expensive. Normally, they are used in banking, airlines and railways etc for their applications.

Mini Computers

Mini computers are lower to mainframe computers in terms of speed and storage capacity. They are also less expensive than mainframe computers. Some of the features of mainframes will not be available in mini computers. Hence, their performance also will be less than that of mainframes.

Micro Computers

The invention of microprocessor (single chip CPU) gave birth to the much cheaper micro computers. They are further classified into

  • Desktop Computers
  • Laptop Computers
  • Handheld Computers(PDAs)

Desktop Computers

Desktop Computers
Today the Desktop computers are the most popular computer systems.These desktop computers are also known as personal computers or simply PCs. They are usually easier to use and more affordable. They are normally intended for individual users for their word processing and other small application requirements.

Laptop Computers

Laptop Computers
Laptop computers are portable computers. They are lightweight computers with a thin screen. They are also called as notebook computers because of their small size. They can operate on batteries and hence are very popular with travellers. The screen folds down onto the keyboard when not in use.

Handheld Computers

Handheld computers or Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) are pen-based and also battery-powered. They are small and can be carried anywhere. They use a pen like stylus and accept handwritten input directly on the screen. They are not as powerful as desktops or laptops but they are used for scheduling appointments,storing addresses and playing games. They have touch screens which we use with a finger or a stylus.