Technological advances have allowed microcomputers are essential instruments for automatic data management in an efficient and simple way. In this article we will know everything about microcomputers, their origin, operation and much more.
What are Microcomputers?
Microcomputers, also known as microcomputers, are computer systems equipped with a microprocessor that acts as its processing core, designed to carry out specific functions. Factors such as the complexity of the system, its capacity, the operating system, standardization, adaptability, and cost of the device are highly dependent on the microprocessor.
Microcomputers are a comprehensive system for the individual user, which in addition to the microprocessor, incorporates a memory and a variety of components for data input and output.
Although microcomputers are often confused with personal computers, they are not identical. It would be more accurate to say that personal computers fall into the broader category of microcomputers.
Its Origin and Evolution
The Origin of Microcomputers is a fascinating journey that takes us through decades of technology and innovation. Although computers as a concept have been around for a long time, The era of microcomputers really began in the 70s.
The first microcomputer in history is called "Micral N" and was designed in 1972 by the Frenchman André Truong Trong Thi and his company R2E. Although it was sold for an affordable price, it was not very popular due to its orientation towards industrial and scientific applications rather than individual users.
The big milestone came in 1975 with the Altair 8800, a microcomputer kit created by the American company MITS. Although the Altair 8800 was sold in pieces to be assembled by the user himself, it was incredibly popular among technology enthusiasts.
The 70s also saw the rise of Apple Inc, founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. In 1976, they released the Apple I, a microcomputer billed as a motherboard with a CPU, RAM, and basic graphics chips. A year later, in 1977, they launched the Apple II, which was a great success.
Starting in the 80s, microcomputers began to become more popular and accessible to the general public. IBM released its IBM PC in 1981, which became the standard for personal computers. Microsoft, which had been working with IBM, released its MS-DOS operating system, which became the most widely used on these devices.
Since then, Microcomputers have evolved at an impressive rate. We went from early machines that required user assembly and had limited memory and processing capabilities, to incredibly powerful and compact devices that fit in our backpacks or even our pockets.
Today, microcomputers are an essential part of our daily lives. We use them to work, learn, play, communicate and much more. Although many years have passed since the Altair 8800 and Apple I, the spirit of innovation that fueled the birth of microcomputers lives on in the devices we use today.
Characteristics of Microcomputers
- Its central core is the microprocessor, which is simply an integrated circuit.
- It has built-in technology that facilitates the interconnection of its parts.
- Thanks to its compact design, its packing and transport is simple.
- It has limited memory.
- Its price is reasonable for most users.
- I mean an easy-to-use operating system without difficulties for the user.
- It can be used with a TV instead of a monitor.
How do they work?
Microcomputers have the ability to carry out input, output, calculation and logic operations, through the following procedure:
- Reception of data intended to be processed.
- Implementation of programmed commands for data processing.
- Saving of information, both before and after its modification.
- Display of results derived from data processing.
In other words, microcomputers use a set of instructions that, when decoded, allow them to perform the necessary micro-operations to respond to user demands.
Therefore, the set of instructions includes an operation code, which indicates the address of each operand, that is, it specifies a bit of an instruction, of the various elements that compose it.
Micro-operations, on the other hand, are the functional actions of the microprocessor, responsible for reorganizing the instructions and carrying out a program sequentially.
Through timing, the microcomputer manages to synchronize the events in the network of communication lines that link the elements of the system.
Finally, it is important to understand what decoding means. Decoding is the process by which the instructions are interpreted in order to determine which operation must be carried out and how the operands on which said commands must be implemented must be obtained.
The hardware covers the physical elements of microcomputers, that is, they are the concrete and tangible part of them. It is made up of electrical components, circuits, cables, and other peripheral elements that facilitate the integral operation of the machine.
For microcomputers, it can refer to a single unit or multiple individual devices. In general, for the hardware to perform its roles, it needs the presence of the following components:
- Keyboard: It is the main device for entering information. It allows the interaction between the user and the microcomputer, through the introduction of data that will be transformed into recognizable patterns.
- Mouse: Shares the function with the keyboard, but can only carry out related functions with one or two clicks. Convert physical movement into movements on the screen.
- Microphone: Typically a device built into most microcomputers, the sole purpose of which is to allow voice input.
- Video camera: Useful for inputting information in the form of photos and videos, but has limitations in most programs run by microcomputers.
- voice recognition software: It is responsible for transforming spoken words into digital signals that can be translated and interpreted by microcomputers.
- Optical pencil: It is an electronic pointer that allows the user to modify the information on the screen. It is used manually and works through sensors that send signals to the microcomputer every time they detect light.
- Optic reader: It is similar to a stylus, but its main function is to read barcodes to identify products.
- CD-ROM: It is a standard input device that stores read-only computer files. It is not present in all microcomputers, but it is present in desktop ones.
- Scanner: It is a device that is generally connected to desktop computers. Digitizes printed material for storage on the microcomputer.
These are the components through which microcomputers show the results achieved after data processing and transformation.
- Screen: It is the most used information output device. It consists of a screen where the data and instructions entered into the microcomputer are displayed. Through it, it is also possible to visualize the characters and graphics that result after the transformation of the data.
- Printer: It cannot be linked to all categories of microcomputers, but it is one of the most used information output devices. Mainly it replicates, in printed form, any type of information stored in the microcomputer.
- Modem: Facilitates the connection between two computers so that they can exchange data. It also allows the transmission of data through a telephone line.
- Audio system: These are usually built-in sound cards that increase the volume of audio contained in media.
- Speaking: Allows you to respond by producing sound. In this sense, it is important to underline that in the case of touch screens present in most modern microcomputers, they function as input and output devices simultaneously.
Central processing unit
It is the microprocessor or the core of the microcomputer, where the logical operations and numerical calculations are carried out, product of the decoding and execution of the received instructions.
The microprocessor is made up of the math coprocessor, the cache and the wrapper, and is located inside the motherboard of microcomputers. For more information on their position, you can review the article on the components of a computer motherboard.
The coprocessor is the logical component of the microprocessor. It handles numerical calculations, graphics production, font generation, and text/image mixing, in collaboration with registers, the control unit, memory, and the data bus.
La Cache memory is a type of high-speed memory that reduces response time. related to the search for information of regular use, without the need to resort to RAM memory.
The casing is the external part that protects the microprocessor, while facilitating the connection with external connectors.
Microprocessors are linked to registers, which are temporary storage spaces that contain data. They are also responsible for following the instructions and the result derived from the execution of said instructions.
Finally, microcomputers incorporate an internal bus or a network of communication lines, capable of linking the elements of the system both internally and externally.
Memory and storage devices
The memory unit is responsible for the temporary conservation of instructions and data received, so that they are later handled by the processor. The data must be in binary format. memory is divided into Random Access Memory (RAM) and Read Only Memory (ROM).
La RAM constitutes the internal memory, which is subdivided into operating memory and storage memory. In it, it is possible to locate a word or byte quickly and directly, without taking into account the sequence of bits stored before or after said character.
With regards to ROM memory, houses the basic operating system of a microcomputer. The microprograms that include the complicated instructions are stored in it, as well as the bitmap corresponding to each of the participating characters.
Storage units include hard drives, CD-ROMs, DVDs, optical drives, and removable hard drives, among others.
- HDD: It is a non-removable solid magnetic disk, that is, it is contained within a drive. It is common in most microcomputers and has a large information storage capacity.
- Optical unit: Commonly called CD, it is a storage and distribution device for audio, software and any other type of data. The information is saved by means of perforations made with a laser on a master disk, which is reproduced from the production of multiple copies.
- CD-ROM: It is a read-only compact disc, which means that the information stored on it cannot be altered or deleted once it has been stored. Unlike CDs, the data is recorded outside of the manufacturing plant.
- DVD: Follows the same philosophy as CDs, but the information can be recorded on both sides of the DVD. Generally, a special player is needed to read it. However, the most recent models of players available on the market read both CDs and DVDs.
In general, we can distinguish two classes of microcomputers: desktop computers and mobile computers. Both are used with equal frequency by both individuals and companies.
Desktop computers: Due to their size, they can be placed on a desk, but this very feature limits their portability. They are composed of processing and storage units, output units, and even a keyboard.
Mobile computers: Its lightweight and compact design allows it to be easily transported from one place to another. These include laptops, notebooks, personal digital assistants (PDAs), smartphones, and others. Its main feature is the efficiency in data processing.
Several models of microcomputers can be distinguished, each of them with specific characteristics based on their function. Let's see the details below:
Desktop computers: They represent the most popular microcomputer model. They are capable of performing the most common computing tasks, such as browsing the web, writing and editing documents, among many other useful functions. They support additional components such as speakers or web cameras.
Laptops: They represent a true revolution in the world of personal computers. They keep inside elements such as the screen, the keyboard, the processor, the hard drive, among others. They can perform the same tasks as desktop computers, but their smaller size and more affordable price give them an advantage.
Laptops: They have a flat screen and are battery operated. Its size is what determines its portability.
Notebooks: Its main function is to perform simple productivity tasks. They do not have CD or DVD drives. They are cheaper than personal computers, which makes their level of sales higher. They are lighter than laptops.
Tablets: They replace laptops and notebooks in terms of functionality. Its touch screen allows the user to interact directly with the content. They do not have keyboards or mice.
Personal digital assistants (PDAs): They essentially function as pocket organizers. They have calendar functions, notebook, spreadsheets, among others. They allow the introduction of data through special input devices. In addition, they have telecommunications tools.
Smartphones: They are microcomputers that can make calls and send messages, as well as connect to the Internet through WiFi or mobile connections. They share many of the functions of personal computers, such as managing emails and handling multimedia content.
Microcomputers of the future
Despite the rapid evolution of computing and technology, the essential fundamentals of hardware and software tend to remain consistent over time. However, microcomputers promise to be at the forefront, simplifying the management of finances, schedules, contacts, calendars and other daily tasks. In addition, will continue to be relevant in emerging technological fields, such as artificial intelligence, robotics and everything related to multimedia content.
Microcomputers that promise to have a positive impact on our future lives will undoubtedly possess a higher capacity and performanceor, as well as they will provide more and better functionalities. Among these the following can be mentioned:
hybrid laptops: Also known as hybrid tablets, they work as both tablets and computers, thanks to the fact that they have a keyboard and a touch screen. As an additional value, the screen is larger and incorporates a digital pen.
Telephones with connection to televisions: Since the introduction of smartphones, its functions have progressively increased. With this innovation, it is intended to transform a television screen into a computer, simply through a cable connection. Later, the high-end phone market is expected to grow and adopt this new technological approach, through the creation of universal applications.
Pocket computers: Although the concept already exists, it is expected that these computers will decrease in size until they are comparable to a USB stick. The main idea of this proposal is that by connecting this small device to a screen, it can function as a computer.
Holographic computers: It is certainly an ambitious project. However, currently some companies and universities are developing projects that will transform current augmented reality headsets into holographic devices, literally putting the technology within the reach of users.
quantum computers: The project for the future implies the popularization of this technology, which allows processing a large amount of data in a minimum time. Today, part of this concept is applied in artificial intelligence, where data is processed through very complex calculations.
Multi-person computers: With the advance of time, the barriers that separate all types of existing computers will be broken, until reaching the point of being surrounded by intelligent objects that function as computers, focused on increasing productivity and capable of satisfying the needs of the moment.
Microcomputers mainly handle three types of information formats: bits, bytes, and characters.
El bit It is the most basic unit of information handled by a microcomputer, and from it larger amounts of information are formed. The combination of several bits allows to represent and store information.
Furthermore, the bytes are the standard unit of measurement used to calculate the capacity of temporary memory and long-term storage of microcomputers. A byte consists of 8 bits and can represent all kinds of information, including numbers 0 through 9 and letters of the alphabet.
Generally speaking, microcomputers are designed to understand the language of bytes. This allows them to measure large volumes of information in terms of kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes.
Un character, instead, is a letter, number, punctuation mark, symbol, or control code. It may not always be visible on screen or on paper, but it is used to store and transmit information electronically.
To better understand the concept of bits and bytes, it is crucial to mention that a bit is the fundamental unit of a binary system, which only has two possible values (0 and 1). In contrast, the decimal system contains ten digits (0 through 9) and the hexadecimal system contains 16 characters ranging from 0 to 9 and the letter A through F.