The History of Computer Hardware – From the Beginning to Now


Learn how computer hardware has transformed the world we live in today from simple abacuses to powerful smartphones that have revolutionized businesses and accelerated scientific discovery.

In 1946, the ENIAC was born: the first general-purpose electronic digital computer in the world. It weighed over 30 tons and occupied an entire room.

The Analytical Engine

Charles Babbage is widely recognized as one of the pioneers in computer history. He worked with Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace on inventing mechanical calculating machines like his Analytical Engine which could run different programs.

However, his Difference Engine was much more advanced; indeed, it acted as a forerunner for modern computers. It was programmable through punched cards; its features included conditional branching, looping, microprogramming, parallel processing and iteration – all these are used today by any computing system.

The Analytical Engine consisted of hundreds of interlocking wheels and gears connected by wire; it could represent numbers up to 40 digits long. It had a “store” where data could be stored before arithmetic processing; a “mill” for mathematical operations; reader and printer facilities for inputting/outputting information; plus its logical design being crucial to shaping modern computer technology and inspiring further invention.


A colossal assembly containing 17,468 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, 1,500 relays and 6,000 manual switches filled a room at Penn’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering weighing 30 tons and using enough energy to cause brownouts in Philadelphia.

Physicist John Mauchly with electrical engineer J. Presper Eckert built ENIAC to solve general-purpose problems including artillery firing tables. The Army used it until 1955.

Before ENIAC existed human computers (usually teams of women) would spend hours using mechanical calculators to predict a shell’s trajectory; all these calculations could be done by ENIAC in seconds.

But ENIAC had its shortcomings: it needed to be manually wired by programmers with patch cables and switches via wiring plugboards; reprogramming took days; decimal numbers and zero were used as oppose to binary numerals system which computers utilize today; conditional branching (an essential feature of modern programming) was also impossible with this machine; nevertheless, designers learned from it and made better computers such as EDVAC, UNIVAC or Whirlwind.

The Transistor

The transistor is one of the greatest electrical devices ever invented; without them we wouldn’t have long distance phone calls or good sound quality on our favorite songs. But what exactly is a transistor?

Early radios employed a fine wire called cat’s whisker to contact germanium crystal for detecting signals from radio stations. But those early devices were large-sized and delicate.

A project led by US physicist William Shockley at Bell Laboratories–AT&T Telecommunications’ research arm–was working on an amplifier/receiver device.

However, Shockley had falling out with his coworkers. After Bardeen and Brattain snubbed his work, Shockley felt betrayed; consequently he came up with junction transistor himself over an intensive four-week period in a Chicago hotel room.

The Microprocessor

Computers before microprocessors utilized a rack of circuit boards filled with many medium- and small-scale integrated circuits for computing tasks. A microprocessor combined all central computing functions onto one chip for greater efficiency – substantially reducing size & cost of computing processes.

Binary instructions are transformed by a microprocessor into a machine language for specific computer programs, which it then runs and gives back the results. A microprocessor, composed of millions of tiny transistors working together, is able to give fast and accurate results.

Over the years, the bit count in instruction processing of this technology has increased from 4 or 8 bits to 64 bits today with more on-chip memory for faster and more diverse programs. In addition to this, floating-point arithmetic units that used to be separate integrated circuits are now built into microprocessors themselves.

In 1971 Intel created the world’s first single-chip microprocessor called the 4004; this event can be seen as one of the most important moments in history for computers and also marks the beginning of mobile devices.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *