Personal computers are everywhere. People use them for work, school, entertainment, and a whole range of things. Even with the arrival of more personal devices like smartphones and tablets, personal computers continue to be an essential tool for modern living. But the nature of technology is ever-changing. One of the reasons personal computers stay relevant is how they have changed over the years and how they continue to evolve.
This article describes the evolution of the personal computer.
Since computers and computing has a long history that dates back to the 1800s, this article focuses on devices that can be used by just one person.
In 1946, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer or ENIAC became operational. It is considered the first electronic digital computer that can be used or reprogrammed to suit several purposes. It can solve a wide range of numerical problems. The best part is, it is the first computer that requires only one, albeit highly trained, individual to use.
After the ENIAC, computers for laboratory, instrumentation, and engineering were built. They usually only required one person to operate.
Innovations in semiconductor technology starting in 1959 paved the way for more powerful computers at more manageable sizes.
In 1969, Intel received a request from the Japanese company, Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation. According to Intel, this assignment led to the creation of the first single-chip microprocessor, which became the Intel 4004. It’s also considered the first in the long ling of Intel central processing units. A line that extends even up to today.
This design had a significant impact on the evolution of personal computing. Just four short years later, the first personal computer, the Micral, was created. Back then, personal computers were widely referred to as microcomputers.
The Mother of All Demos
In 1968, the Association for Computing Machinery / Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers mounted a computer demonstration that showcased what the future could hold for personal computing.
The 90-minute live presentation showed personal computer elements like graphics, windows, hypertext, command input, navigation, video conferencing, word processing, file linking, collaborative work, and the first computer mouse.
The presenter, Douglas Engelbart, was the person who first designed the mouse. According to The Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, in an interview with Wired magazine in 2005, Engelbart described his epiphany in 1951, where he imagined a personal computer that would be responsive to different types of flexible input. This was where he got the idea to design the mouse.
The hugely successful presentation was later widely renowned as The Mother of All Demos.
In 1965, Gordon Moore, co-founder and then CEO of Intel, suggested that every year the number of components in integrated circuits would double. This was later dubbed as Moore’s Law. This forecasted the exponential growth of computing power of computers. And for a very long time, this was indeed the case.
Since the Micral, there have been a lot of revolutionary improvements to the personal computer that has led to how it is today. With the opening of the internet for public use in 1991, personal computers took on a whole new role in modern life.
Today, 49.7 percent of households around the world own a personal computer. PCs have become so mainstream that people can build their own. They even use custom PC cases and other individual designs at times.
Personal computers have indeed come a long way. Even with devices like smartphones, these computers will always have a place in people’s lives. You might also be reading this using a PC.