views updated May 14 2018


The concept of inventing hardware to assist in commercial productivity is not a modern concept. For example, thousands of years ago the Chinese sought greater efficiency in calculating numbers and invented the abacus, a handheld mechanical device. Another hardware milestone was reached when Charles Babbage (17911871) proposed a machine in 1822 that would calculate mathematical tables, and much of his design was used in later computers. Later, Herman Hollerith (18601929) designed a method to store numbers onto punched cards, which was used to calculate the 1890 census, and the company he founded eventually became IBM Corporation. The first decade of the twenty-first century revealed hardware devices that may be easily carried in a pocket and are embedded with wireless links to people or data around the world. This significantly extends the arena of the workplace to cars, airplanes, and homes.


The first electronic computer, the ENIAC, was developed at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946. It used vacuum tubes and weighed 30 tons. Remington Rand Corporation produced the first commercial computer, the UNIVAC, in 1951. Transistors, which replaced vacuum tubes, were far smaller and took less power than tubes. Transistors were shortly thereafter replaced by integrated circuits, which further minimized size and lessened power requirements. The availability of integrated circuits made the first personal computer possible in 1977 when Steve Jobs (1955 ) and Steve Wozniak (1950 ) introduced the Apple II. IBM offered their first microcomputer in 1981, and Apple's Macintosh was introduced in 1984. The Macintosh was the first popular computer with a graphical user interface (GUI), and it also had a laser printer that could combine text and pictures. A GUI operating system receives input from both the keyboard and a pointing device (mouse). In the early twenty-first century all personal computers use a mouse or trackball for point and click ease of operation.


There are four main classifications of computers: main-frame, minicomputer, microcomputer, and handheld. The major categories can be used only as general guidelines because of the huge variety in product lines. Cell phones include a microprocessor, and along with personal digital assistants (PDAs), are considered handheld computers. Computer servers have also been included in this discussion because of their important role in networking and Internet applications.

A mainframe computer is any large computer system such as that used by the Internal Revenue Service. Another example of mainframe use is by airlines, with thousands of users of the ticketing system connected simultaneously to one computer. The next smaller-sized computer is termed a minicomputer. It is of medium-scale and might serve up to several hundred users. Commonly known as personal computers (PCs), microcomputers are small-sized computers, including desktops and laptops. Handheld computers, including cell phones, have considerable storage for their size and include the capability of communications from virtually any place.

Additionally, computers that are "servers" have taken on increased importance as the Internet has become so integral to commerce. A server can either connect a cluster of computers, or be used to store Web pages that can be retrieved by users. Most such computers are classified as minicomputers and can process many connections. They typically use the UNIX operating system.


Central processing unit (CPU): The CPU is at the heart of all computers. All data pass through it. The CPU is "the computing part of the computer. Also called the processor. A complete computer system requires the addition of control units, input, output, and storage devices and an operating system" (CMP Net Online Encyclopedia ). Micro-computers/personal computers commonly run at 2 gigahertz per second. Mainframe computers measure their speed in millions of instructions per second.

Random access memory (RAM):

RAM consists of microchips that allow for the temporary storage of data. RAM functions as the work place for the CPU. It is common for a computer to have 500 megabytes of RAM.

Input devices:

Computers receive information from a variety of sources. The most common input devices are a keyboard along with a mouse. Desktop or laptop computers are the center of a workplace, with input links from digital cameras, handheld computers, scanners, micro-phones, and voice commands. Some devices, such as handheld computers, function as both input and output devices.

Output devices:

An important output device is the computer monitor, which is increasingly lighter in weight and flat because of new liquid crystal display units that also enable laptop computers, cell phones, and PDAs to have color screens. It is also common for a screen on a cell phones or a PDA to be both an input and output device.

Computer projectors are commonly used to display data or information onto a large screen for group viewing, training, or showing Web sites. Many businesspeople travel with both a portable computer and a computer projector to visually display information for training or to aid in sales at remote sites.

The GUI and general popularity of computers have also promoted significant changes in the hardware options for printing. The earliest printers were essentially automatic typewriters and had little flexibility. Currently, there are a wide variety of printers (including ink-jet and laser) available and capable of color and black and white. The output has improved to near-professional quality prints. While many people have talked about paperless offices for decades, the popularity of printing devices and variety of papers attests to current uses.

Connection devices:

Because of the increasing popularity and use of the Internet, all desktop and laptop units contain built-in network interface capability. Most newer laptops also come with the ability to use wireless communications. The network interface normally uses an Ether-net protocol, and these devices offer both input and output capability. Wireless technology allows users continual connectivity while out of the office. This has revolutionized everything from allowing the police to immediately trace stolen vehicles to an on-site roofing salesperson checking stock on particular colors of roofing.


Computers can reproduce both sound and video. Material can come from standard audio compact disks but increasingly more of it is from the Internet. Users can also view and/or edit both still and digital pictures or video.

Storage Devices:

All computers use a hard drive to store programs and files. The size of an average hard drive is about 100 gigabytes. That size would have been considered enormous as recently as 2000. Further, changes have made the floppy disk obsolete; new computers do not come with a floppy disk drive. The newest storage device is the flash drive, which is smaller than a package of gum but can hold 1 gigabyte of storage. The hardware allowing for flash drives is also used on such devices as Sony's Memory Stick and other units that are designed to be supple-mental storage for PDAs, iPods, cameras, telephones, MP3 players, and other mobile devices.


Computers are an increasingly critical component of the workplace, home, and school. New generations of hardware are supporting and even creating new avenues of interpersonal and data communications never possible previously. Hardware that used to fill rooms now is tucked into one's pocket. Cyberculture chronicler Howard Rheingold in an interview with Jesse Walker described the various new ways of connectivity (cell phones, pagers, handheld computers, etc.) as producing new forms of social interaction. Additionally, computing power is becoming more pervasive around the globe. For example, Rheingold stated his belief that mobile communication devices played roles in elections in South Korea, Kenya, and the United States at the start of the twenty-first century. Text messaging allows communication globally very quickly and simply.

Based on the history of hardware development, some trends emerge. Computer hardware will probably continue to become even smaller, lighter weight, more portable, and less expensive. Keyboards may even become obsolete as voice activation equipment becomes more sophisticated. Connectivity within and between systems on a global basis, as well as from home to work to school will accelerate to the point where, Rheingold predicted, more objects will be communicating via the Internet than people. Futurist Lane Jennings noted that handheld wireless phones, linked to the Internet (transmitting images and text) may radically transform how individuals and groups operate. Yet, cyberterrorism and/or hackers accessing hardware may leave computer users vulnerable.

Elementary and secondary schools increasingly emphasize the use of technology to access information and are changing the way students learn. New generations of students will be entering the workforce with more-sophisticated computer skills, and perhaps will be less fearful of "new hardware" and change in general than previous workforces. The foreseeable future holds the promise of more and more integration of work, home, and computers, with digital devices as companions and collaborators that exhibit uncanny understanding.

see also Information Processing: Historical Perspectives; Information Technology


CMP Net Online Encyclopedia. http://www.techweb.com/encyclopedia

Forcier, R. (1996). The computer as a productivity tool in education. Boston: Merrill.

Hutchinson, S., and Sawyer, S. (1998). Computers, communications, and information. Boston: Irwin/McGraw-Hill.

Jennings, Lane (2003, May/June). From virtual communities to smart mobs. The Futurist, 37 (3).

Long, L., and Long, N. (1999). Computers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Walker, Jesse (2003, April). Is that a computer in your pants? [an interview with Howard Rheingold]. Reason Magazine. Retrieved December 3, 2005, from http://www.reason.com/0304/fe.jw.is.shtml

Armand Seguin

Cynthia Shelton (Anast) Seguin


views updated May 29 2018


The term hardware most often refers to computer machinery and equipment one can see and touch, such as central processing units (CPUs), disk drives, modems, memory chips, monitors, speakers, and printers. Memory and disk devices send data and instructions to the CPU. The type of hardware housed inside a computer determines how quickly the CPU can process these instructions. The software applications that reside on a computersuch as Windows or Unix operating systems, word processors, spreadsheets, databases, e-mail programs, and World Wide Web browsersmake the hardware useful to computer users in the same way that television programming makes televisions and remote controls useful to viewers.

Major hardware companies include Compaq Computer Corp., Intel Corp., and Dell Computer Corp. In the late 1990s, as prices for personal computers (PCs) began plummeting, many of these firms sought both diversification as a means of growing sales and consolidation as a means of cutting costs. For example, Compaq paid $3 billion for Tandem Computers Inc. in 1997. The deal, which marked the computer hardware industry's largest transaction that year, doubled Compaq's sales force and allowed the company to begin offering clients more fully integrated products. Roughly one year later, Compaq bought Digital Equipment Corp for $9 billionthe industry's largest acquisition to dateto become the worldwide leader in multi-user storage systems.

In the late 1990s, the growth of the Internet forced many hardware companies to move into networking technology and World Wide Web services. For example, although the popularity of the Web helped fuel Intel's success when hordes of consumers bought PCs to gain access to the Internet from their homes, it also eventually sparked the development of hardware devices like cell phones and inexpensive Internet terminals that offered consumers alternative means of accessing the Internet. As a result, Intel began to restructure itself as a networking technology and Internet services provider. In 1998, the firm launched an $8.5 billion purchasing spree that included the acquisition of communications and networking firms and the development of Web hosting services. In 2000, it developed the e-Commerce Directory, which enhances the speed of online purchases, and Traffic Director, which helps to balance loads on e-commerce servers. In May of 2001, one of the largest players in the computer hardware industry, IBM Corp., launched Web Services, which allows the applications used by one online business to communicate with the applications used by other businesses to better facilitate electronic business-to-business transactions.


Abreu, Elinor. "Big Blue Joins Web Service Fray." The Standard. May 14, 2001. Available from www.thestandard.com.

"Hardware." In Ecommerce Webopedia. Darien, CT: Inter-net.com, 2001. Available from e-comm.webopedia.com.

"Hardware." In Techencyclopedia. Point Pleasant, PA: Computer Language Co., 2001. Available from www.techweb.com.

McDougall, Paul. "Intel Products Aim at Speeding E-Commerce TransactionsNetstructure Line Designed to Keep Consumers From Giving Up on Online Orders." Information-Week. February 21, 2000.

SEE ALSO: Compaq Computer Corp.; Digital Equipment Corp.; IBM Inc.; Intel; Microprocessor


views updated May 23 2018

hard·ware / ˈhärdˌwe(ə)r/ • n. tools, machinery, and other durable equipment: tanks and other military hardware. ∎  the machines, wiring, and other physical components of a computer or other electronic system. Compare with software. ∎  tools, implements, and other items used in home life and activities such as gardening.


views updated May 21 2018

Hardware ★½ 1990 (R)

Rag-tag ripoff in which McDermott is a post-apocalyptic garbage picker who gives girlfriend Travis some robot remains he collected (ours is not to ask why), oblivious to the fact that the tidy android was a governmentspawned population controller programmed to destroy warm bodies. Seems old habits die hard, and that spells danger, danger, Will Robinson. Much violence excised to avoid x-rating. 94m/C VHS, DVD . Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, Iggy Pop; D: Richard Stanley; M: Simon Boswell.


views updated Jun 11 2018

hardware The physical portion of a computer system, including the electrical/electronic components (e.g. devices and circuits), electromechanical components (e.g. a disk drive), and mechanical (e.g. cabinet) components. Compare software.


views updated May 21 2018

hardware In computing, equipment as opposed to the programs, or software, with which a computer functions. The computer, keyboard, printer and electronic circuit boards are examples of hardware.


views updated May 14 2018


computer machinery and equipment collectively, excepting the programs. See also software.