computer

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computer

Programmable machine that can store, retrieve, and process data. Today's computers have at least one CPU that performs most calculations and includes a main memory, a control unit, and an arithmetic logic unit. Increasingly, personal computers contain specialized graphic processors, with dedicated memory, for handling the computations needed to display complex graphics, such as for three-dimensional simulations and games. Auxiliary data storage is usually provided by an internal hard disk and may be supplemented by other media such as floppy disks or CD-ROMs. Peripheral equipment includes input devices (e.g., keyboard, mouse) and output devices (e.g., monitor, printer), as well as the circuitry and cabling that connect all the components. Generations of computers are characterized by their technology. First-generation digital computers, developed mostly in the U.S. after World War II, used vacuum tubes and were enormous. The second generation, introduced c. 1960, used transistors and were the first successful commercial computers. Third-generation computers (late 1960s and 1970s) were characterized by miniaturization of components and use of integrated circuits. The microprocessor chip, introduced in 1974, defines fourth-generation computers.

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