Glossary search



n. ~ 1. An electronic device that accepts data as input, which is then analyzed or manipulated according to specific instructions, with the resulting data stored for future use, output in human-readable form, or used as input to another process or to control another device. ~ 2. One who counts or adds numbers.


Computers1 are often categorized in terms of their processing power. 'Mainframe' (in slang, 'big iron') refers to large computers, especially older systems that relied on batch or centralized processing. They continue to be used for applications that require many individuals to work simultaneously with a large amount of shared data, such as a large corporate accounting system. Because 'mainframe' describes older systems, the term 'supercomputer' was introduced to describe a new class of very powerful computers, especially very fast or massively-parallel architectures. 'Minicomputer' was used to describe smaller systems, especially those with all components contained in a single cabinet. The term has generally fallen out of use. 'Microcomputer' and 'personal computer' (PC) are near synonyms that refer to small systems that rely on a single-chip central processing unit (CPU). 'Workstation' connotes a very powerful microcomputer designed for use by an individual for processor-intensive applications but is often used to mean any personal computer. Given the increase of speed and capacity of hardware, the distinctions between these categories of computers are significantly blurred by the fact that many modern laptops are more powerful than early mainframes. Modern computers are digital, using binary code and programmed using software. Some early computers did not use binary code, and analog computers were programmed by physical wiring.

Computer2 is now largely obsolete, though the profession was not uncommon through the mid-20th century. Computers might have been involved in producing large tables of numbers from formulas.