Various Types of Computers, Characteristics

A computer is any electronic machine which can accept inputs (instructions and data) presented to it in a prescribed format from input devices, carry out some operations on the input automatically, and supply the required results (output) in a specified format on output devices, as information for human decision-making, or as signals to control some other machines or process.

Today various types of computers do much more than simply compute: supermarket scanners calculate our bills while keeping store inventory, computerized telephone switching centres play traffic cop to millions of calls and keep lines of communication untangled; and automatic teller machines (ATM) let us conduct banking transactions from virtually anywhere in the world. Above all the computer can store and manipulate large  quantities  of data at very high speed.

Various Types of Computers and their Functions

The various types of computers are often classified according to their processing power, size and functions. The size of computers varies widely from tiny to huge and is usually dictated by computing requirements. The list below are the classified types of computer:

1. Supercomputers:

They are the most powerful, the most expensive, the largest in size and the fastest. They are capable of processing trillions of instructions per second. They tend to be used primarily for scientific applications in weather forecasting, aircraft design, nuclear research, space research, and seismic analysis. Commercially, they are used as “host” processors and large networks that process data from thousands of remote station. An example of’ a supercomputer is Cray- 1 Supercomputer  built  by Cray Research  Company.  Supercomputers are used for  tasks that require mammoth data manipulation.

2. Mainframes:

Mainframe computers process data at very high rates of speed, measured in the millions of instructions per second. They are very expensive, large (often filling an entire room) and costing millions of dollars in some cases. Mainframes are designed for multiple users and process vast amounts of data quickly. Banks, insurance companies, manufacturers, mail-order companies, and airlines are typical users. Mainframes are often ‘servers’– computers that control the networks of computers for large companies. Example of Mainframe computer is IBM 370 located at the University Computing Centre in the 1970’s.

3. Mini-Computer:

This type of computer is often used by medium size business organizations for stock control and invoicing. The cost of mini-computer is lower than that of Main-Frame and generally suits the need of medium-sized business. Mini computers are small compare to main frame computer as the processor and peripherals are physically smaller. They possess most of the features found on mainframe computers, but on a more limited scale.

4. Microcomputers: 

They are the  types  of  computers,  which  are  generally  used  in  colleges  and  institute for teaching purpose. They are terribly limited in what they can do when compared to the larger models discussed above because they can only be used by one person  at  a  time,  they  are much slower than the larger computers,  and  they  can  not  store  nearly  as  much  information,  but  they are excellent when used in small businesses, homes, and school classrooms.

These computers are comparatively inexpensive and easy to use. Microcomputers can be divided into two groups: personal computers and workstations. Workstations are specialized computers that approach the speed of mainframes. Often microcomputers are connected to networks of  other  computers.

The price of a microcomputer varies greatly depending on the capacity and features of the computer. Microcomputers make up the vast majority of computers.  They  are  further  categorized  into: desktop, Laptop, Notebook, Palmtop and the smallest in size is the handheld computer called  a personal digital assistant or a PDA.

PDAs are used to track appointments and shipments as well as names and addresses. PDAs are called pen-based computers because they utilize a pen-like stylus that accepts hand-written input directly on a touch-sensitive screen.

Characteristics of a Computer System

Computers of all sizes have common characteristics, principally:

  • Speed: The Computer is made  up of electronic  components that  operate at electronic  speed – far more comparable to any other known processing information  They provide the processing speed required by all facets of society.
  • Large storage Capacity: With the use of external storage devices of large sizes and increasingly large memory capacity, huge amount of information can be stored, retrieved and processed electronically.
  • Reliability: The computer accuracy is consistently  high  when  compared  with  other information processing  Computers are indeed extremely reliable.
  • Automatic: Once a program is stored in the computer’s memory, the individual instructions will require less human intervention for the operation to be performed.
  • Diligence: A computer does not suffer from human trait of tiredness, as the computer is ready to perform any job as instructed.
  • Versatility: the fact that a computer can be used in any discipline has made it to be popular among other information processing tools. It is a general purpose device.
  • The Computer is Electronic in nature and can process millions of instructions per second. Computers are definitely productive.
  • The computer is not a Substitute for Human Brain.

How Computers Work and Handles Task

When a computer is asked to do a job, it handles the task in a very special way.

  1. It accepts the information from the user. This is called input.
  2. It stored the information until it is ready for use. The computer has memory chips, which are designed to hold information until it is needed.
  3. It processes the  The computer has an electronic brain called the Central Processing Unit, which is responsible for processing all data and instructions given to the computer.
  4. It then returns the processed information to the   This is called output.

Every computer has special parts to do each of the jobs listed above. A computer collects, processes, stores and outputs information as illustrated by the figure below:


Computer receives inputs (instructions and data) through input devices. Input device lets you communicate with a computer. You can use input devices to enter information and issue commands. A keyboard, mouse and joystick are input devices.


The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the main chip in a computer. The  CPU processes instructions, performs calculations and manages the flow of information through a computer system. The CPU communicates with input, output and storage devices to perform tasks.


Inputs and sometimes processing results are stored on storage devices. A storage device holds information. The computer uses information stored on these devices to perform tasks. Hard drives, tape drive, floppy disk, Flash Drive are storage devices.


Outputs from a computer are received through output devices. An output device lets a computer communicate with you. These devices display information on a screen, create printed copies or generate sound. A monitor, printer and speakers are output devices.

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