Differences in certain computer characteristics have led to the development of major computer classifications based on the type of electronic signal and memory size.
Types of computers based on electronic signal
Computers, in general are of three types as per the electronic signal they transmit. (i) Analog Computers (ii) Digital Computers (iii) Hybrid Computers
An analog computer operates on inputs of continuously varying electrical voltages. An example of the use of an electronic analog computer is that of controlling a flight simulator for training pilots. The computer responds to the cockpit simulator control movements made by the pilot and makes physical changes in the environment so that the pilot feels as if he is controlling an actual aeroplane. Analog computers are used mainly in scientific design and production environments. Each one has to be constructed to do a specific job and will respond very quickly to changes in the measurement of inputs.
In digital computers, mathematical expressions are represented as binary digits (0 and 1) and all operations are done using these digits at a very high rate. It means that the computer operates on electrical inputs that have only two states, ON and OFF. These computers are widely used in commercial and control systems. Now a days when we use the word computer, we mostly refer to a digital computer.
Hybrid computers are computers with combined features of both digital and analog type. Desirable features of analog and digital machines can be combined to create a Hybrid Computer. This type of computer operates by counting as well as by measuring. In other words, the output can be either in the form of numbers or required units of measurement, e.g., an analog device measures patient’s heart beat (ECG). These measures will be converted into digital form and a digital device checks for any abnormality. Further, we can also input digital data like your marks and get digital results like the result of your class. Another example is a Modem. (which converts the digital signals into analog, carry it along the line and at the receiving end again changes it back into digital signal).
Types of computers based on memory size
On the basis of size of memory computers can be divided into following categories:
Microcomputer is at the lowest end of the computer range in terms of speed and storage capacity. Its CPU is a microprocessor. The first microcomputers were built of 8-bit microprocessor chips. The most common microcomputer is a personal computer (PC). The PC supports a number of input and output devices. An improvement of 8-bit chip is 16-bit and 32-bit chips. Examples of microcomputer are IBM PC, PC-AT.
This is designed to support more than one user at a time. It possesses large storage capacity and operates at a high speed than a microcomputer. The mini computer is used in multi-user system in which various users can work at the same time. This type of computer is generally used for processing large volume of data in an organization. They are also used as servers in Local Area Networks (LAN).
This type of computers are generally 32-bit computers. They operate at very high speed, have very large storage capacity and can handle the workload of many users. They are generally used in centralized databases. They are also used as controlling nodes in Wide Area Network (WAN). Example of mainframes are DEC, ICL and IBM 3000 series.
This is the fastest and most expensive machines. It has high processing speed compared to other computers. They also have multiprocessing technique. One of the ways in which supercomputers are built is by interconnecting hundreds of microprocessors. Supercomputer is mainly used for weather forecasting, biomedical research, remote sensing, aircraft design and other areas of science and technology. Examples of supercomputers are CRAY YMP, CRAY2, NEC SX-3, CRAY XMP and PARAM from India.