Math in Computing

Modern Computers and Mathematics

What are the definitions of computers in use today?

It’s easy to see why the word “computer” has so many connotations. They vary greatly, but include the following basic types, which are based mostly on the size and number of people who can simultaneously use the machines.

The first type of computers are called mainframes. These are considered the largest and most powerful general purpose computer systems. It is usually used to fill the needs of a large agency, company, or organization, because it uses hundreds of computer terminals at the same time. For example, it is used by statistical institutes and for meteorological surveys. Supercomputers are sophisticated machines designed to perform complex calculations at maximum speed. Because of their speed and the great amount of data they can process—they can perform hundreds of millions of instructions per second—they are most often used to model huge dynamic systems with many variables, such as complex weather patterns and groundwater flow.

Microcomputers are usually subdivided into personal computers (or desktop computers) and workstations. Oftentimes, microcomputers are linked together in a local area network (LAN) or by joining the microprocessors in a parallel-processing system. This allows smaller computers to work in tandem, giving them comparable power and computational abilities to mainframes.

Some of the more familiar, smaller microcomputers today are notebooks and laptops, which are very similar. Laptops are small enough to fit on a person’s lap; notebooks are usually a bit smaller and lighter than a laptop. In recent years, the newest laptops (and sometimes notebooks) have the same capabilities as the “more powerful” desktop computers.

Still other, even smaller microcomputers are the hand-held computers, which fit in your hand, and the palmtops, which, literally, fit in your palm. These computers are limited in their capacity, but are good for such functions as phone books, calendars, and short notes.

Also considered a form of microcomputer is the tablet—a tablet computer developed by the company Apple (for more about the iPad, see below). It is easy to carry, and is a flat rectangle with a 9.7-inch touchscreen that allows the user to maneuver through phone numbers, drawings, word processing, and sundry other tasks with ease. It is only about a half inch thick and weighs a mere one and a half pounds. It is based on a phone (a device called an iPhone) operating system, and thus it can be connected to a wireless connection through what is called wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi, which is why you can take your more recent laptop or other communication device with a Wi-Fi card inside to some popular bookstores and connect to the Internet.



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