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Definition Microcomputer

An archaic term commonly abbreviated as PC (personal computer), the microcomputer refers to complex computer equipment which is used for various applications. This name alludes to the size of the device which has decreased significantly since the creation of the first models which occupied significant space.

The microcomputer indicates a computer station

A microcomputer includes several components which remain almost the same for all brands. The system is centered on a processor (chip), random access memory (RAM) and graphics memory, as well as a storage disk (ROM) and a power supply. Everything is based on an integrated circuit called a motherboard. Computer enthusiasts can obtain all these components commercially and build their own microcomputer.

The use of a computer becomes possible thanks to an operating system which serves as the basis for all programs. The interface can be controlled by several peripherals, including the keyboard, a mouse and especially the screen. Ports (USB, HDMI) and connectors such as an Ethernet output, the Bluetooth link or the Wifi signal sensor allow this interaction to be extended with other devices.

Another important detail: the term microcomputer is not limited to the PC. This computer architecture can indicate a Smartphone, a tablet, a server and various workstations. In fact, current mobile phones have the same configuration as a personal computer. This is also the case for gaming stations and calculators. Moreover, the English term computer comes precisely from this functionality.

Various uses of microcomputers

In homes, personal-use microcomputers are used for educational purposes and entertainment. They become substitutes for communication devices. These machines also serve as television, cinema and game consoles. Currently, most PCs work with an Internet connection. In addition to programs preinstalled by the manufacturer, software is downloaded by the user. The latter can also draw content from the Internet network.

For the professional environment, the microcomputer is used for various applications, including office automation. Word processing, spreadsheets as well as exchanges by email or intermediary communication software are common tasks. Some areas are developing more specific programs. Computers are used, for example, to manage robotics in a factory. There are also numerous applications dedicated to specific trades. Accounting, archiving, multimedia and various missions are entrusted to PCs.

Some computers are programmed to operate almost autonomously. They have software to manage a rich flow of communication. This is the case for servers and computer databases. Artificial intelligence, especially learning by the machine itself, makes it possible to extend functionalities. A microcomputer can be upgraded. It is possible to change all the components to provide more computing power and memory.

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The birth of personal computers

The computer has existed since the advent of electronics. However, we had to wait until the 1970s for his personal, reduced-size version.

  • 1971: the invention of the Intel 4004 microprocessor marked the start of the development of the microcomputer. The 8008 and 8080 chips released in 1972 and 1974 respectively provided some computing power.
  • 1973: the first real microcomputer called Micral was born. This year marks the first exploitation of the microprocessor. Unlike what was done at the time, it was not in kit form.
  • 1974: the MCM/70 model from Micro Computer Machines Inc. is developed. It was followed by the Altair 8800 from Micro Instrumentation Telemetry Systems (MITS), which was a commercial success. Ready to use, it was sold for around $600.
  • 1980s: microcomputers cast a wide net. In addition to leisure applications, they become work tools and teaching materials in universities.
  • 1990s: portable versions called personal digital assistants (PDAs) emerged. They precede Smartphones which use the same architecture, but more compact.

Several computer formats coexist

The microcontroller was considered the ancestor of computers. Like Raspberry Pi, it is a PC that uses a single card. This format still exists, but is used in electronic learning, prototyping, or the Internet of Things (IoT). Brands such as Arduino, Intel or Particle are present in this sector. Microcontrollers still equip everyday devices such as smart televisions or connected refrigerators.

The minicomputer is a microcomputer whose size has been reduced to the extreme. Represented by the PDP-8 model from 1965, it appeared in the 1960s, but became fashionable in universities in 1980. At the time, manufacturers competed in ingenuity to produce the smallest model possible. These were technological marvels since microcomputers were once “huge”. Their weight reached a ton and their casing occupied several cubic meters. The 12-bit PDP-8 looked like a refrigerator.

Currently, computers are once again taking on exceptional dimensions. The quantum model is practically ready. It is the compact equivalent of a computer center the size of an entire floor. Its computing power is insane. In the meantime, servers or data banks are truly autonomous units that can operate with minimal human intervention. These installations are so important for digital civilization that the breakdown of one of them can cause a social crisis or a stock market crash.