12 Different Types of Computers

Computers advance so quickly, it is enough to give you whiplash. It is often hard to keep up with the technology. By the time you buy something, it is already outdated. Check out all the different types of computer options to help keep you up to date on current trends.

A laptop, a tablet and a mobile phone on a wooden table.

Computers have evolved significantly in the past 20 years. I have kids that are in their early teens, and they have no concept of life without computers. They have no concept of life without smartphones.

It is amazing in just a few short years; I went from having to go to the computer lab at college to owning several laptops. Computers have become part of our every day, and we rarely remember a time without them. There are many different types of computers; we have lost track of the purpose of each one. Keep reading to find out more about the different types of computers.

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What is a Computer?

A computer is any type of device that is electronic that can manipulate data or information. It can process the data, store it, and then retrieve it. They are used to create documents, handle word processing, surf the web, play games, and have video conversations.

Computers have moved from a tool to help you complete work to something that provides news, entertainment, the ability to work, and connection to other people. The word computer is used to define just about any computing device that has a microprocessor in it. There are so many computer types available that some of us forget that the phone we are holding is a small computer.

Types of Computers

Personal Computer

A man using an old personal computer.

The term personal computer (PC) has been used as a term to describe a computer that operates a Windows operating system. This is not an accurate use of the word because a Mac computer is also a PC. The true definition of the words personal computer is any computer that has been designed for any type of use by one person.

This is an old term that is not used often today. You may hear of people in their 50s or 60s using this term because when computers first became available to the general public, which was around the 1980s, they were referred to as PCs. For some, the word has stuck. Over time, the personal computer has changed drastically.

Desktop

A close look at a modern desktop computer.

A desktop is the first computer that was available for people to purchase for personal use. They were still expensive. You can still purchase a desktop model today, but they are more reasonably priced and much lighter.

The original desktop computer had a tower, which sat on the floor. Everyone used to bang their legs on them. If you ever had one, you know exactly what I mean.

The tower held the processor, memory, microchips, and all the inner workings of the computer. A desktop computer system has a large monitor. It was heavy and referred to as a cathode ray tube (CRT). They took up a lot of space on your desk.

They had a keyboard and mouse attached with cords. Once you put the desktop somewhere, you were not going to move it. Today, many people have moved away from desktops to other options. Those who are devoted gamers still put their money into desktops.

Laptop

A man working on his laptop.

In the early 1980s, engineers figured out how to put all the components of a desktop into a laptop, which is basically a microcomputer or a portable personal computer. It was heavy at 24 pounds and expensive. The first laptop had a screen that was only five inches. It was also slow and did have a lot of storage space.

A laptop has the keyboard, display monitor, hard drive, processor, mouse, or trackball, all in one component. It has a battery in it, and the top of the laptop folds down so you cannot see the screen or the keyboard. Over the next decade, computer manufacturers worked to create a better version of the laptop. Since then, many different types and brands of laptops have been constructed, including the notebook. A notebook computer is the lightest laptop you can buy.

Netbook

A close look at a man typing on his netbook.

A netbook is similar in many ways to a laptop computer, but it is much smaller. They are incredibly affordable and much less expensive than a traditional laptop. They tend to be less powerful than a traditional laptop. While they are compact, they are a bit stripped down. Their original intent was to provide a way to use applications that are web-based, surf the internet, listen to music, check email, and watch movies.

Their display is typically about six to seven inches, and they may not have any data ports. If they have a data port, it may only be one. You will not see many netbooks from big-name computer manufacturers. They do not often produce netbooks. They tend to be slow with not a lot of computer memory. This type of microcomputer is not ideal for gaming or applications that have a ton of graphics. It will not be able to churn through them. This portable computer is best for surfing the web.

Tablet

A close look at a man using his tablet.

Tablets have replaced netbooks for the most part. They are thin and flat and are a larger version than a smartphone. At least for now, anyway. If smartphones keep getting bigger and tablets to keep getting smaller, they will be the same size soon. Tablets first made an appearance around 2000, but it was not until 2010 that Apple released the iPad, and it took the world by storm.

While a tablet has many of the same functions as a digital computer, it does not have the internal fan that comes with a laptop. As a result, a tablet has a processor that does not perform as well, so the processor does not produce a lot of heat. This also helps to preserve the battery that the tablets use. Tablets do not provide as much storage space as you will find on a traditional laptop.

The first tablets used the same operating system as the smartphones, but since then, they have been upgraded to full operating systems. Now, they use the same ones as a laptop. A tablet computer offers maximum portability and has better battery life than a laptop. Their design is similar to a smartphone. This makes it easy to play games and take pictures.

You can purchase accessories to make it easier to use your tablet. A stylus will allow you to draw on the screen. If you prefer using a keyboard, you can purchase one that can be attached or completely separate from your tablet. A tablet has the ability to give you the best of all worlds.

Handheld Computer

A close look at a couple of handheld computers.

In the early 90s, handheld computers made their debut. Quickly, we had moved from computers taking up whole rooms to something you could hold in your hand. Not only that, but it did not have to be connected to a power source with a cord. Suddenly, the power of a computer was in the palm of your hand. At the time, these handheld computers had some limitations.

Typically, they were intended for a specific purpose, not overall general purposes like a personal computer. You may remember the term personal digital assistant (PDA) or the Palm Pilot. What about the BlackBerry? They varied in the way they looked and what functions they could perform. Some had keyboards, while others required the use of a stylus.

They were often the size of a small book, provided a decent battery, and were light. They allow the use of calendars, email, and some simple messaging capabilities. However, often to message someone, they needed to have the same type of device. If you had a BlackBerry, you could message someone else with a BlackBerry. The screens were black and white and had basic interfaces.

There were other handheld computers that were helpful in the workplace. These included scanners and other small machines that allowed you to control the inventory of your product. This machine can also control when and how much you purchase items. They were also referred to as a palmtop computer.

SmartPhone

A close look at a woman using her smartphone.

The PDA quickly moved into the land of smartphones. Most people today have some type of smartphone. Even those who were hesitant to get one have finally come around. The smartphone started by taking the features of a PDA and adding full-scale computer features to it. It literally became a mini-computer you could carry in your hands.

A smartphone is your mobile computer that has a user interface that provides you with a touch screen. They often have as much memory as a laptop. You have the ability to connect your smartphone to many different options via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and others. Smartphones have multi-lens cameras and quality audio. They take amazing pictures and videos. Many people use their smartphones solely to take pictures and videos.

While there are a few smartphone options, the iPhone set the stage for them. They raised the bar, and other companies are meeting it. Some would argue that they are far exceeding the bar that iPhone sets. For those that do not team Apple, Androids have competed nicely in the smartphone market. The first iPhone made its presence known in 2007, and each year smartphones have given us more options. Today, many use their smartphone as a minicomputer.

Workstation

A man working at his workstation that has three monitors.

A workstation, in many ways, is like a desktop. It is just more. It is more powerful. It has more memory, even secondary memory. A workstation is meant for one person to use, but they are often found in the workplace. They have powerful processors, higher-end graphics cards, much more memory, and additional enhancements geared toward the line of business in which it is used.

It may have the ability to handle graphics or churn through a lot of data quickly. These types of computers are found in design and engineering firms. These machines tend to be expensive. The additional capabilities they need come at a price, which is why you will not typically find them being used for personal purposes. While workstations come with a hefty price tag, you are getting a quality piece of machinery.

These machines come prepared to do your work, and they provide speed, security, and a great amount of space to store large files. They typically use the most state of the art technology in their processors and memory chips.

Server

A close look at the server of a network of computers.

A server is not commonly found for general at-home use. Some people, especially those that are tech-savvy, may have a server set up in their home. The average computer user does not. While a computer, a server is not something you are going sit in front of and do work. A server gives the power of your computer through a network or via the Internet.

A server is a computer that has been created to provides services to other computers and peripheral devices, like a printer, options that are hooked up to it. They do not have to be attached by cords. A server typically has a significant amount of memory, a fast processor, and incredibly hard drive space. A server can hold onto information or applications that you may not need all the time on your computer, so you do not want them to take up space.

Instead, you can access them when you need to from the server. You can retrieve information, crunch data, track data, and process information. A server is typically stored in a server room that is kept cool. When there is a large amount of equipment in one room, it gets hot quickly. Computers do not like heat, so computer rooms are kept at a specific temperature to allow the computers to function properly.

A server has all the components a typical computer has. This includes network connections, motherboards, video, memory, and processors. Often, they do not have a monitor for display. Typically, the person maintaining the network uses one monitor to control and configure all the servers hooked up to one network.

Mainframe

A large mainframe computer that spans the whole room.

You may not hear the term mainframe often anymore. In the early computer days, it was a popular term. Now, the terms ‘server’ or ‘enterprise’ or ‘enterprise server’ have replaced the word mainframe. It was once a big deal, so we would be remiss not to mention it. At one time, mainframes took up an entire space, sometimes a room, but sometimes an entire floor.

The term mainframe was once used to refer to a central and powerful computer linked to a series of smaller and less powerful computers. Today, individual computers are powerful on their own, and servers are used that the concept of the mainframe computer is not needed much. Today they are used by large corporations that process transactions while meeting the needs of thousands of users.

Think of a large company that has thousands of employees in one location. They may still be using a mainframe to power their daily transactions, especially if that work includes the use of databases. A mainframe can help keep transactions safe and secure and encrypt sensitive information. This can include mobile and electronic payments, as well as top-secret information.

There is really not a better computer solution than a mainframe for calculating data and crunching numbers if that is what you need. Banks still use mainframe computers to store information about the customers and to keep that data safe. These are expensive to purchase and operate. They require their own dedicated space that is temperature-controlled. They are large and put off a lot of heat.

Supercomputer

Supercomputer clusters at a data center.

A supercomputer is typically a group of computers that are high performing and all work in the same system. These types of computers are expensive, and quickly get up into the high thousands. They have a good amount of power to compute some of the most robust calculations and crunch data. These computers are different from mainframes in that they are intended to be fast.

They have incredible processing speeds that help them power through detailed calculations. These types of computers are often found in specific types of businesses, such as weather forecasting or institutions that focus on scientific data. These types of organizations require significant speed to work through data. These are the most powerful options you will find when it comes to a supercomputer.

These are the computers that are best equipped to handle applications that run artificial intelligence (AI). These computers are incredibly large and take up a significant amount of space. They can be so large that they have been known to take up the space of an entire building. No matter space where the supercomputer is located, it must be air-conditioned and temperature controlled to ensure that it does not overheat.

Wearable

A woman wearing a smartwatch.

Technology is constantly expanding at a fast rate of speed. The latest trends include wearable computers. It may seem funny to refer to your watch as a computer, but it is a computer. It may not look like a typical computer, but the components inside mimic some of the components of a computer. Examples of wearable technology include watches, glasses, phones, and clothes.

Wearable technology usually targets a specific type of user. Those who are into fitness and outdoor activities tend to prefer wearable technology. Many computer applications like email, calendars, phones, and multimedia, are available in wearable technology. This technology gives information about the calories you burn, steps, speed, and location. One of the most popular wearables is the Apple Watch.

The Apple Watch is a smartphone on your wrist. You are able to text and respond to email. It can be paired to your smartphone to make phone calls. While watches are among the most popular of all the wearable technology, there are many options. Some clothes have accessories that are sewn into them. Other options include earbuds, trackers for your heart rate, monitors for your sleep, and smart glasses.

Wearables have a large amount of flexibility and improvement of smart technology. The technology is improving quickly. So much so that when you purchase the latest technology, it is not long before a new one is released.

Brief History

Computers in some format have been built since the early 1800s, and the early format was a punch card. By the 1930s, the first concept of a universal computer was created. In the 1940s, a computer became a storage device because it was able to store information for the first time. By the 1960s, the computer began to look more like the computers we use today.

The Apple 2 Computer at an Apple museum.

In the mid-1970s, created Apple computers. In 1982, IBM gave us the first personal computer. It used the Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS) operating system. This was the first-ever operating system. Apple quickly followed in 1983, with their first personal computer that had a graphical user interface. This interface was the first attempt to put icons on your screen. In the next few years, new components, including memory known as random access memory (RAM) and a central processing unit (CPU). In the early 1990s, Intel created the Pentium processor.

A close look at the modern Apple products.

In the early 2000s, Apple brought the Mac OS to the general public with its multitasking and protected memory. Microsoft wanted to stay competitive with Apple and released Windows XP, which had a completely redesigned user interface. Now, computers have touchscreens, connectivity options built-in, incredibly operating systems all in lighter, thinner cases that can be carried around.

FAQs

What are the Advantages of Using a Computer?

A computer can provide you many advantages as it can improve your productivity and save you time. It allows you to connect to the internet and store large amounts of data. This helps to reduce wasted time and effort. Computers help you create, organize, and sort information. They allow you to search through large amounts of data.

What Parts are Needed For a Computer to Work?

While computers come with different features and parts, there are some main items a computer needs to function. These include a motherboard, a processor, memory, graphics card. It also needs to have an operating system, a monitor, power, storage, and some way for it to be cooled. Most computers need a keyboard and mouse.

What Type of Computer Should I Buy?

A computer is a personal choice. The best computer is the one the meets your needs. You should answer some questions for yourself. You should know if you would like a computer you can take on the go, which is a laptop, or would you prefer a desktop. You should understand your needs and what you would do with your computer. You should understand your budget and how much you want to spend. This can help guide you towards the computer that is best for you.

What’s the Difference Between Restarting and Shutting Down your Computer?

For a Mac, restart and shut down are virtually the same thing. For a PC, there is a difference between restart and shut down. A shut down allows the Windows computer to go into deep hibernation. This creates a file that the personal computer uses for a quicker startup. A restart will kill all the processes you have going. This clears the memory and the cache. Restart is ideal when applications are newly installed on your computer.

What Makes a Computer Fast and Powerful?

In general, random access memory (RAM) is what fuels the processing speed of a computer. The faster your RAM means the faster your computer memory can send information to other parts of the computer. This means that your processor can quickly send messages to the other part of the computer. Another important factor is the speed of the hard disk. This determines how quickly the hard drive can transfer data to the different parts of the computer. It also indicates how quickly it can read and write data to the hard drive.

Which is the Most Powerful Type of Computer?

A supercomputer is widely known as the fastest, most powerful, largest, and most expensive computer that you can find today. These computers are not ideal for at home, personal use.

What are Some Basic Things to Know About A Computer?

There is a lot to know about a computer and how it functions. Some basic information you should know when buying a personal computer is that you want to make sure you have virus protection on it. You want it to be secure and you need a strong password on every account you have. You want to make sure that you have a Wi-Fi network to which you can connect.

You want to make sure you clean it up periodically and delete files you no longer need or want. You always want to be sure that you back up the data on your computer. Computer shortcuts can help you in many ways. You want to understand what they are and create them to make things easier for yourself.

What Type of Personal Computer is the Cheapest One?

The cheapest personal computer that you can probably find is the HP Pavillion Mini. This is a desktop computer in a miniaturized format. It can sit in the palm of your hand. It is about two inches tall, but that is where the smallness ends. It has about 4 GB memory and a hard drive that is 500 GB. It includes two USB ports and can power two display monitors.

How Much Does a Computer Cost?

Computer prices are all over the place. It truly depends on the type and brand of computer you want, along with the features that it offers. The specific operating system you want can make a difference in the cost, also. For a desktop computer, you should expect that a basic computer will cost about $400.

That will have limited storage and processing speed. If you are interested in the top of the line model with a maximum amount of speed and storage space, you can expect the cost to be close to $3,500. The average computer is going to run much closer to the $400 range than the higher end unless you need something much faster and more streamlined.

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