History of Computing Hardware (1960–Present)

The main purpose of this article is to take a look at the history of computers from the third generation computers of the 1960s to today's technology of microcomputers, which have allowed for a computer presence in people's homes.

The history of computing hardware starting at 1960 is marked by the conversion from vacuum tube to solid-state devices such as transistors and then integrated circuit (IC) chips. By 1959, discrete transistors were considered sufficiently reliable and economical that they made further vacuum tube computers uncompetitive. Metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) large-scale integration (LSI) technology subsequently led to the development of semiconductor memory in the mid-to-late 1960s and then the microprocessor in the early 1970s. This led to primary computer memory moving away from magnetic-core memory devices to solid-state static and dynamic semiconductor memory, which greatly reduced the cost, size and power consumption of computers. These advances led to the miniaturized personal computer (PC) in the 1970s, starting with home computers and desktop computers, followed by laptops and then mobile computers over the next several decades.


Third generation

The mass increase in the use of computers accelerated with 'Third Generation' computers. These generally relied on integrated circuit (microchip) technology, starting around 1966 in the commercial market.

In 1958, Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments invented the hybrid integrated circuit (hybrid IC), which had external wire connections, making it difficult to mass-produce. In 1959, Robert Noyce at Fairchild Semiconductor invented the monolithic integrated circuit (IC) chip. It was made of silicon, whereas Kilby's chip was made of germanium. This basis for Noyce's monolithic IC was Fairchild's planar process, which allowed integrated circuits to be laid out using the same principles as those of printed circuits. The planar process was developed by Noyce's colleague Jean Hoerni in early 1959, based on the silicon surface passivation and thermal oxidation processes developed by Mohamed M. Atalla at Bell Labs in the late 1950s.

Computers using IC chips began to appear in the early 1960s. For example, the 1961 Semiconductor Network Computer (Molecular Electronic Computer, Mol-E-Com), first monolithic integrated circuit general purpose computer (built for demonstration purposes, programmed to simulate a desk calculator) was built by Texas Instruments for the US Air Force.

Some of their early uses were in embedded systems, notably used by NASA for the Apollo Guidance Computer, by the military in the LGM-30 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile, the Honeywell ALERT airborne computer, and in the Central Air Data Computer used for flight control in the US Navy's F-14A Tomcat fighter jet.

An early commercial use was the 1965 SDS 92. IBM first used ICs in computers for the logic of the System/360 Model 85 shipped in 1969 and then made extensive use of ICs in its System/370 which began shipment in 1971.

The integrated circuit enabled the development of much smaller computers. The minicomputer was a significant innovation in the 1960s and 1970s. It brought computing power to more people, not only through more convenient physical size but also through broadening the computer vendor field. Digital Equipment Corporation became the number two computer company behind IBM with their popular PDP and VAX computer systems. Smaller, affordable hardware also brought about the development of important new operating systems such as Unix.

1969 Data General Nova

In November 1966, Hewlett-Packard introduced the 2116A minicomputer, one of the first commercial 16-bit computers. It used CTµL (Complementary Transistor MicroLogic) in integrated circuits from Fairchild Semiconductor. Hewlett-Packard followed this with similar 16-bit computers, such as the 2115A in 1967, the 2114A in 1968, and others.

In 1969, Data General introduced the Nova and shipped a total of 50,000 at $8,000 each. The popularity of 16-bit computers, such as the Hewlett-Packard 21xx series and the Data General Nova, led the way toward word lengths that were multiples of the 8-bit byte. The Nova was first to employ medium-scale integration (MSI) circuits from Fairchild Semiconductor, with subsequent models using large-scale integrated (LSI) circuits. Also notable was that the entire central processor was contained on one 15-inch printed circuit board.

Large mainframe computers used ICs to increase storage and processing abilities. The 1965 IBM System/360 mainframe computer family are sometimes called third-generation computers; however their logic consisted primaritly of SLT hybrid circuits, which contained discrete transistors and diodes interconnected on a substrate with printed wires and printed passive components; the S/360 M85 and M91 did use ICs for some of their circuits. IBM's 1971 System/370 used ICs for their logic.

By 1971, the Illiac IV supercomputer was the fastest computer in the world, using about a quarter-million small-scale ECL logic gate integrated circuits to make up sixty-four parallel data processors.

Third-generation computers were offered well into the 1990s; for example the IBM ES9000 9X2 announced April 1994 used 5,960 ECL chips to make a 10-way processor. Other third-generation computers offered in the 1990s included the DEC VAX 9000 (1989), built from ECL gate arrays and custom chips, and the Cray T90 (1995).


Fourth generation

Third generation minicomputers were essentially scaled-down versions of mainframe computers, whereas the fourth generation's origins are fundamentally different. The basis of the fourth generation is the microprocessor, a computer processor contained on a single large-scale integration (LSI) MOS integrated circuit chip.

Microprocessor-based computers were originally very limited in their computational ability and speed, and were in no way an attempt to downsize the minicomputer. They were addressing an entirely different market.

Processing power and storage capacities have grown beyond all recognition since the 1970s, but the underlying technology has remained basically the same of large-scale integration (LSI) or very-large-scale integration (VLSI) microchips, so it is widely regarded that most of today's computers still belong to the fourth generation.


Semiconductor memory

The MOSFET (metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor, or MOS transistor) was invented by Mohamed M. Atalla and Dawon Kahng at Bell Labs in 1959. In addition to data processing, the MOSFET enabled the practical use of MOS transistors as memory cell storage elements, a function previously served by magnetic cores. Semiconductor memory, also known as MOS memory, was cheaper and consumed less power than magnetic-core memory. MOS random-access memory (RAM), in the form of static RAM (SRAM), was developed by John Schmidt at Fairchild Semiconductor in 1964. In 1966, Robert Dennard at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center developed MOS dynamic RAM (DRAM). In 1967, Dawon Kahng and Simon Sze at Bell Labs developed the floating-gate MOSFET, the basis for MOS non-volatile memory such as EPROM, EEPROM and flash memory.



1971: Intel 4004

The basic building block of every microprocessor is the metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET, or MOS transistor). The microprocessor has origins in the MOS integrated circuit (MOS IC) chip. The MOS IC was first proposed by Mohamed M. Atalla at Bell Labs in 1960, and then fabricated by Fred Heiman and Steven Hofstein at RCA in 1962. Due to rapid MOSFET scaling, MOS IC chips rapidly increased in complexity at a rate predicted by Moore's law, leading to large-scale integration (LSI) with hundreds of transistors on a single MOS chip by the late 1960s. The application of MOS LSI chips to computing was the basis for the first microprocessors, as engineers began recognizing that a complete computer processor could be contained on a single MOS LSI chip.

The earliest multi-chip microprocessors were the Four-Phase Systems AL-1 in 1969 and Garrett AiResearch MP944 in 1970, each using several MOS LSI chips. On November 15, 1971, Intel released the world's first single-chip microprocessor, the 4004, on a single MOS LSI chip. Its development was led by Federico Faggin, using silicon-gate MOS technology, along with Ted Hoff, Stanley Mazor and Masatoshi Shima. It was developed for a Japanese calculator company called Busicom as an alternative to hardwired circuitry, but computers were developed around it, with much of their processing abilities provided by one small microprocessor chip. The dynamic RAM (DRAM) chip was based on the MOS DRAM memory cell developed by Robert Dennard of IBM, offering kilobits of memory on one chip. Intel coupled the RAM chip with the microprocessor, allowing fourth generation computers to be smaller and faster than prior computers. The 4004 was only capable of 60,000 instructions per second, but its successors brought ever-growing speed and power to computers, including the Intel 8008, 8080 (used in many computers using the CP/M operating system), and the 8086/8088 family. (The IBM personal computer (PC) and compatibles use processors that are still backwards-compatible with the 8086.) Other producers also made microprocessors which were widely used in microcomputers.

The following table shows a timeline of significant microprocessor development.


Year Microprocessors
1971 Intel 4004
1972 Fairchild PPS-25; Intel 8008; Rockwell PPS-4
1973 Burroughs Mini-D; National IMP-16; NEC µCOM
1974 General Instrument CP1600; Intel 4040, 8080; Mostek 5065; Motorola 6800; National IMP-4, IMP-8, ISP-8A/500, PACE; Texas Instruments TMS 1000; Toshiba TLCS-12
1975 Fairchild F8; Hewlett Packard BPC; Intersil 6100; MOS Technology 6502; RCA CDP 1801; Rockwell PPS-8; Signetics 2650; Western Digital MCP-1600
1976 RCA CDP 1802; Signetics 8X300; Texas Instruments TMS9900; Zilog Z-80
1977 Intel 8085
1978 Intel 8086; Motorola 6801, 6809
1979 Intel 8088; Motorola 68000; Zilog Z8000
1980 National Semi 16032; Intel 8087
1981 DEC T-11; Harris 6120; IBM ROMP
1982 Hewlett Packard FOCUS; Intel 80186, 80188, 80286; DEC J-11; Berkeley RISC-I
1983 Stanford MIPS; Berkeley RISC-II
1984 Motorola 68020; National Semi 32032; NEC V20
1985 DEC MicroVAX 78032/78132; Harris Novix; Intel 80386; MIPS R2000
1986 NEC V60; Sun SPARC MB86900/86910; Zilog Z80000
1987 Acorn ARM2; DEC CVAX 78034; Hitachi Gmicro/200; Motorola 68030; NEC V70
1988 Intel 80386SX, i960; MIPS R3000
1989 DEC VAX DC520 Rigel; Intel 80486, i860
1990 IBM POWER1; Motorola 68040
1992 DEC Alpha 21064; Hewlett Packard PA-7100; Sun microSPARC I
1993 IBM POWER2, PowerPC 601; Intel Pentium; Hitachi SuperH
1994 DEC Alpha 21064A; Hewlett Packard PA-7100LC, PA-7200; IBM PowerPC 603, PowerPC 604, ESA/390 G1; Motorola 68060; QED R4600; NEC V850
1995 DEC Alpha 21164; HAL Computer SPARC64; Intel Pentium Pro; Sun UltraSPARC; IBM ESA/390 G2
1996 AMD K5; DEC Alpha 21164A; HAL Computer SPARC64 II; Hewlett Packard PA-8000; IBM P2SC, ESA/390 G3; MTI R10000; QED R5000
1997 AMD K6; IBM PowerPC 620, PowerPC 750, RS64, ESA/390 G4; Intel Pentium II; Sun UltraSPARC IIs
1998 DEC Alpha 21264; HAL Computer SPARC64 III; Hewlett Packard PA-8500; IBM POWER3, RS64-II, ESA/390 G5; QED RM7000; SGI MIPS R12000
1999 AMD Athlon; IBM RS64-III; Intel Pentium III; Motorola PowerPC 7400
2000 AMD Athlon XP, Duron; Fujitsu SPARC64 IV; IBM RS64-IV, z900; Intel Pentium 4
2001 IBM POWER4; Intel Itanium; Motorola PowerPC 7450; SGI MIPS R14000; Sun UltraSPARC III
2002 Fujitsu SPARC64 V; Intel Itanium 2
2003 AMD Opteron, Athlon 64; IBM PowerPC 970; Intel Pentium M
2004 IBM POWER5, PowerPC BGL
2005 AMD Athlon 64 X2, Opteron Athens; IBM PowerPC 970MP, Xenon; Intel Pentium D; Sun UltraSPARC IV, UltraSPARC T1
2006 IBM Cell/B.E., z9; Intel Core 2, Core Duo, Itanium Montecito
2007 AMD Opteron Barcelona; Fujitsu SPARC64 VI; IBM POWER6, PowerPC BGP; Sun UltraSPARC T2; Tilera TILE64
2008 AMD Opteron Shanghai, Phenom; Fujitsu SPARC64 VII; IBM PowerXCell 8i, z10; Intel Atom, Core i7; Tilera TILEPro64
2009 AMD Opteron Istanbul, Phenom II
2010 AMD Opteron Magny-cours; Fujitsu SPARC64 VII+; IBM POWER7, z196; Intel Itanium Tukwila, Westmere, Nehalem-EX; Sun SPARC T3
2011 AMD FX Bulldozer, Interlagos, Llano; Fujitsu SPARC64 VIIIfx; Freescale PowerPC e6500; Intel Sandy Bridge, Xeon E7; Oracle SPARC T4
2012 Fujitsu SPARC64 IXfx; IBM POWER7+, zEC12; Intel Itanium Poulson
2013 Fujitsu SPARC64 X; Intel Haswell; Oracle SPARC T5
2015 IBM z13
2017 IBM POWER9, z14; AMD Ryzen



1976: Cray-1 supercomputer

The powerful supercomputers of the era were at the other end of the computing spectrum from the microcomputers, and they also used integrated circuit technology. In 1976, the Cray-1 was developed by Seymour Cray, who had left Control Data in 1972 to form his own company. This machine was the first supercomputer to make vector processing practical. It had a characteristic horseshoe shape to speed processing by shortening circuit paths. Vector processing uses one instruction to perform the same operation on many arguments; it has been a fundamental supercomputer processing method ever since. The Cray-1 could calculate 150 million floating point operations per second (150 megaflops). 85 were shipped at a price of $5 million each. The Cray-1 had a CPU that was mostly constructed of SSI and MSI ECL ICs.


Mainframes and minicomputers

Time-sharing computer terminals connected to central computers, such as the TeleVideo ASCII character mode smart terminal pictured here, were sometimes used before the advent of the PC.

Computers were generally large, costly systems owned by large institutions before the introduction of the microprocessor in the early 1970s — corporations, universities, government agencies, and the like. Users were experienced specialists who did not usually interact with the machine itself, but instead prepared tasks for the computer on off-line equipment, such as card punches. A number of assignments for the computer would be gathered up and processed in batch mode. After the jobs had completed, users could collect the output printouts and punched cards. In some organizations, it could take hours or days between submitting a job to the computing center and receiving the output.

A more interactive form of computer use developed commercially by the middle 1960s. In a time-sharing system, multiple teleprinter terminals let many people share the use of one mainframe computer processor. This was common in business applications and in science and engineering.

A different model of computer use was foreshadowed by the way in which early, pre-commercial, experimental computers were used, where one user had exclusive use of a processor. Some of the first computers that might be called "personal" were early minicomputers such as the LINC and PDP-8, and later on VAX and larger minicomputers from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Data General, Prime Computer, and others. They originated as peripheral processors for mainframe computers, taking on some routine tasks and freeing the processor for computation. By today's standards, they were physically large (about the size of a refrigerator) and costly (typically tens of thousands of US dollars), and thus were rarely purchased by individuals. However, they were much smaller, less expensive, and generally simpler to operate than the mainframe computers of the time, and thus affordable by individual laboratories and research projects. Minicomputers largely freed these organizations from the batch processing and bureaucracy of a commercial or university computing center.

In addition, minicomputers were more interactive than mainframes, and soon had their own operating systems. The minicomputer Xerox Alto (1973) was a landmark step in the development of personal computers, because of its graphical user interface, bit-mapped high resolution screen, large internal and external memory storage, mouse, and special software.


Microprocessor and cost reduction

In the minicomputer ancestors of the modern personal computer, processing was carried out by circuits with large numbers of components arranged on multiple large printed circuit boards. Minicomputers were consequently physically large and expensive to produce compared with later microprocessor systems. After the "computer-on-a-chip" was commercialized, the cost to produce a computer system dropped dramatically. The arithmetic, logic, and control functions that previously occupied several costly circuit boards were now available in one integrated circuit which was very expensive to design but cheap to produce in large quantities. Concurrently, advances in developing solid state memory eliminated the bulky, costly, and power-hungry magnetic core memory used in prior generations of computers.


Micral N

Micral N

In France, the company R2E (Réalisations et Etudes Electroniques) formed by five former engineers of the Intertechnique company, André Truong Trong Thi and François Gernelle introduced in February 1975 a microcomputer, the Micral N based on the Intel 8008. Originally, the computer had been designed by Gernelle, Lacombe, Beckmann and Benchitrite for the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique to automate hygrometric measurements. The Micral N cost a fifth of the price of a PDP-8, about 8500FF ($1300). The clock of the Intel 8008 was set at 500 kHz, the memory was 16 kilobytes. A bus, called Pluribus was introduced and allowed connection of up to 14 boards. Different boards for digital I/O, analog I/O, memory, floppy disk were available from R2E.


Altair 8800 and IMSAI 8080

Development of the single-chip microprocessor was an enormous catalyst to the popularization of cheap, easy to use, and truly personal computers. The Altair 8800, introduced in a Popular Electronics magazine article in the January 1975 issue, at the time set a new low price point for a computer, bringing computer ownership to an admittedly select market in the 1970s. This was followed by the IMSAI 8080 computer, with similar abilities and limitations. The Altair and IMSAI were essentially scaled-down minicomputers and were incomplete: to connect a keyboard or teleprinter to them required heavy, expensive "peripherals". These machines both featured a front panel with switches and lights, which communicated with the operator in binary. To program the machine after switching it on the bootstrap loader program had to be entered, without error, in binary, then a paper tape containing a BASIC interpreter loaded from a paper-tape reader. Keying the loader required setting a bank of eight switches up or down and pressing the "load" button, once for each byte of the program, which was typically hundreds of bytes long. The computer could run BASIC programs once the interpreter had been loaded.

1975: Altair 8800

The MITS Altair, the first commercially successful microprocessor kit, was featured on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine in January 1975. It was the world's first mass-produced personal computer kit, as well as the first computer to use an Intel 8080 processor. It was a commercial success with 10,000 Altairs being shipped. The Altair also inspired the software development efforts of Paul Allen and his high school friend Bill Gates who developed a BASIC interpreter for the Altair, and then formed Microsoft.

The MITS Altair 8800 effectively created a new industry of microcomputers and computer kits, with many others following, such as a wave of small business computers in the late 1970s based on the Intel 8080, Zilog Z80 and Intel 8085 microprocessor chips. Most ran the CP/M-80 operating system developed by Gary Kildall at Digital Research. CP/M-80 was the first popular microcomputer operating system to be used by many different hardware vendors, and many software packages were written for it, such as WordStar and dBase II.

Many hobbyists during the mid-1970s designed their own systems, with various degrees of success, and sometimes banded together to ease the job. Out of these house meetings the Homebrew Computer Club developed, where hobbyists met to talk about what they had done, exchange schematics and software, and demonstrate their systems. Many people built or assembled their own computers as per published designs. For example, many thousands of people built the Galaksija home computer later in the early 1980s.

It was arguably the Altair computer that spawned the development of Apple, as well as Microsoft which produced and sold the Altair BASIC programming language interpreter, Microsoft's first product. The second generation of microcomputers, those that appeared in the late 1970s, sparked by the unexpected demand for the kit computers at the electronic hobbyist clubs, were usually known as home computers. For business use these systems were less capable and in some ways less versatile than the large business computers of the day. They were designed for fun and educational purposes, not so much for practical use. And although you could use some simple office/productivity applications on them, they were generally used by computer enthusiasts for learning to program and for running computer games, for which the personal computers of the period were less suitable and much too expensive. For the more technical hobbyists home computers were also used for electronics interfacing, such as controlling model railroads, and other general hobbyist pursuits.


Microcomputer emerges

The "Big Three" computers of 1977: from left to right, the Commodore PET (PET 2001 model shown), the standard Apple II (with two Disk II drives) and the TRS-80 Model I.

The advent of the microprocessor and solid-state memory made home computing affordable. Early hobby microcomputer systems such as the Altair 8800 and Apple I introduced around 1975 marked the release of low-cost 8-bit processor chips, which had sufficient computing power to be of interest to hobby and experimental users. By 1977 pre-assembled systems such as the Apple II, Commodore PET, and TRS-80 (later dubbed the "1977 Trinity" by Byte Magazine) began the era of mass-market home computers; much less effort was required to obtain an operating computer, and applications such as games, word processing, and spreadsheets began to proliferate. Distinct from computers used in homes, small business systems were typically based on CP/M, until IBM introduced the IBM-PC, which was quickly adopted. The PC was heavily cloned, leading to mass production and consequent cost reduction throughout the 1980s. This expanded the PCs presence in homes, replacing the home computer category during the 1990s and leading to the currentmonoculture of architecturally identical personal computers.


Timeline of computer systems and important hardware

Year Hardware
1959 Transistors: IBM 7090; IBM 1401
1960 DEC PDP 1
1961 Fairchild resistor transistor logic
1962 NPN transistor
1963 Mouse; CMOS patented
1964 CDC 6600; IBM Data Cell Drive
1965 DEC PDP 8; IBM 1130
1966 Integrated circuits: HP 2116A; Apollo Guidance Computer
1967 Fairchild built first MOS; Englebart applies for mouse patent
1969 Data General Nova
1969 Honeywell 316
1970 DEC PDP 11
1971 8" floppy disk; ILLIAC IV
1972 Atari founded; Cray Research founded
1973 Micral first microprocessor PC
1974 Altair 8800; Data General Eclipse
1975 Olivetti P6060; Cray-1
1976 Tandem Computers
1977 Apple II; TRS-80 Model 1; Commodore PET; 5.25" floppy
1978 DEC VAX 11
1979 Atari 400, 800
1980 Sinclair ZX80, Seagate hard disk drive
1981 IBM PC, Acorn BBC Micro
1982 Commodore 64, Sinclair ZX Spectrum
1983 Apple Lisa; 3.5" floppy
1984 Apple Mac; Apple Lisa 2
1985 PC's Limited (renamed Dell Computer Corporation in 1988); Amiga 1000
1986 Tandem Nonstop VLX
1987 Thinking Machine CM2; Tera Computer Founded
1988 Dell
1989 NeXT
1990 ETA10; CD-R
1991 Apple Switches to PowerPC
1992 HP 95LX; Palmtop PC
1993 Intel PPGA
1994 VESA Local Bus
1995 IBM Deep Blue chess computer
1996 USB 1.0
1997 Compaq buys Tandem; CD-RW
1998 iMac
1999 First BlackBerry device (850)
2000 USB 2
2003 Arduino
2005 Mac Mini; World's first desktop dual-core CPU Athlon 64 X2
2006 Apple transition to Intel
2007 iPhone 1
2008 USB 3.0
2010 Apple iPad
2012 IBM zEnterprise System; Raspberry Pi
2015 HoloLens

Source: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_computing_hardware_(1960s%E2%80%93present)
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Last modified: Monday, April 8, 2024, 12:29 PM