Generation of Computer


A generation refers to the state of improvement in the development of a product. This term is also used in the different advancements of computer technology. With each new generation of computer , the circuitry has gotten smaller and more advanced than the previous generation before it. As a result of the miniaturization, speed, power, and memory of computers has proportionally increased. New discoveries are constantly being developed that affect the way we live, work and play. Currently, there are five generations of computer. In the following subsections, we will discuss the generations of computer in terms of-

  • The technology used by them (hardware and software),
  • Computing characteristics (speed, i.e., number of instructions executed per second),
  • Physical appearance, and
  • d. Their applications.

First Generation of Computers


The first-generation computers were developed during 1946 to 1958. The vacuum tube was an extremely important step in the advancement of computers. It’s purpose was to act like an amplifier and a switch. Without any moving parts, vacuum tubes could take very weak signals and make the signal stronger (amplify it). Vacuum tubes could also stop and start the flow of electricity instantly (switch). The features of first-generation computers are:

  • Use of vacuum tubes
  • Big and clumsy
  • High electricity consumption
  • Programming in mechanical language
  • Larger AC were needed
  • Lot of electricity failure
  • Low level of accuracy and reliability
  • Mainly used in commercial and scientific applications.

The examples of the first-generation computers were ENIAC, EDVAC, EDSAC UNIVAC-I, and IBM 650.

Second Generation of Computers

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The second-generation computers were developed during the second decade of the electronic computer era (approximately 1959- 1964). In 1947 three scientists, John Bardeen, William Shockley, and Walter Brattain working at AT&T’s Bell Labs invented what would replace the vacuum tube forever. Transistors were found to conduct electricity faster and better than vacuum tubes. They were also much smaller and gave off virtually no heat compared to vacuum tubes. The features of this generation of computers are:

  • Transistors were used
  • Core memory was developed
  • Faster than first generation computers
  • First operating system was developed
  • Programming was in machine language and assembly language
  • Magnetic tapes and disks were used
  • Computers became smaller in size than the first-generation computers
  •  Computers consumed less heat and consumed less electricity

The examples of the second generations were IBM 1620, IBM 1401, Control Data 3600, 400 series and IBM 7000 series.

Third Generation of Computers

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The third-generation computers were developed during 1965-1974. The integrated circuit, or as it is sometimes referred to as semiconductor chip, packs a huge number of transistors onto a single wafer of silicon. Robert Noyce of Fairchild Corporation and Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments independently discovered the amazing attributes of integrated circuits. Placing such large numbers of transistors on a single chip vastly increased the power of a single computer and lowered its cost considerably. The features of this generation of computers are:

  • Integrated circuits developed
  • Power consumption was low
  •  High level languages were used
  • More reliable and better in performance
  • Magnetic disks were used for auxiliary memory

The examples of third generation computers were IBM system/360, Honeywell 200 series, National Cash Register Century Series, ICL 1900 series and IBM 370 series.

Fourth Generation of Computers

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The fourth-generation computers were developed during 1975-1990. This generation can be characterized by both the jump to monolithic integrated circuits (millions of transistors put onto one integrated circuit chip) and the invention of the microprocessor (a single chip that could do all the processing of a full-scale computer). The features of this generation of computers are:

  • LSI and VLSI Technology used
  • Development of portable computers
  • Used in virtual reality, multimedia and simulation
  • Computers started in use for data communication
  • Different types of memories with very high accessing speed & storage capacity

One of the earliest personal computers was the Altair 8800 computer kit. In 1975 you could purchase this kit and put it together to make your own personal computer. In 1977 the Apple II was sold to the public and in 1981 IBM entered the PC (personal computer) market.

Fifth Generation of Computers

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The fifth-generation computers use Super Large Scale Integrated (SLSI) chips that are able to store millions of components on a single chip. These computers have large memory requirements. This generation of computers use parallel processing that allow several instructions to be executed in parallel, instead of serial execution. Parallel processing results in faster processing speed. The Intel dual-core microprocessor uses parallel processing. The fifth-generation computers are based on Artificial Intelligence (AI). They try to simulate the human way of thinking and reasoning. Artificial Intelligence includes areas like Expert System (ES), Natural Language Processing (NLP), speech recognition voice recognition, robotics, etc.

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