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Computer functions

Computers have ceased to be those complex and unintelligible instruments that they used to be in the past,  only usable by technicians and people with a very high level of knowledge in computer science,  to become a device that is capable of providing us with great help in wherever we use them, and in such a simple way that it is amazing.

At present, in any office or home we can find at least one of these devices, taking care of important tasks ,  many times those that previously occupied hours and hours of our time, but with the overcrowding of computers, in any of its forms , notebooks, netbooks, tablets, desktops or hybrids,  have become increasingly the perfect assistant to our activity, indeed, based on computers many new professions and trades have been generated.

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What are the functions of a computer?

However, computers can be used for other things besides work, since they are so versatile devices that they can be used for almost anything, including the replacement of the old television in the kitchen of our house with a powerful PC of the type ” All-in-One ”, with which, in addition to being able to cook while watching the news, we can receive email notifications, surf the Internet or even communicate with friends or relatives through a VoIP application.

Such is  the importance of computers in daily life,  however it is possible that we do not know deeply how they interact with us, and that is why we have prepared this interesting post where we will find a lot of relevant information about the functions that computers they can perform for us.

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A computer is basically  a device whose main function is to process large amounts of information quickly and accurately,  and which performs this procedure thanks to  hardware and software. A PC is capable of performing a large number of very complex tasks, and it is there that it makes use of a set of instructions, called programs or software, which are the orders that the computer must process through the hardware, producing an output of data in a format understandable by its users.

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As we mentioned,  a computer is composed of two subsystems, the hardware and the software , where the first of them comprises the computer itself and all its input and output peripherals, including keyboard, mouse, monitor, printer and others, while the The software subsystem comprises the operating system, which is responsible for translating what we want to do with the PC to the hardware, that is, processing the requests, and all other user programs, that is, office suites, design programs ,  modeling, software mathematicians and many others.

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What does it mean to process information?

The action of processing  is related to the act of modifying or transforming something from its original state to a new one . The computer can process information of various kinds, including text, numbers, images, sounds, and so on. The information with which the computer works must be entered by the user,  but it can also be obtained by other automatic means such as sensors or measuring devices.

The ability of the computer to process information can be summarized through the following basic functions:

Store information:

The computer has the ability to store, in a reduced space, a large amount of information  that otherwise we would have to keep in thousands of sheets, an excellent alternative to maintain a more strict order with the information, in addition to the favor that we are doing to the planet.

Organize Information: 

This function offers the user the option of  sorting or organizing information and data according to their own needs and style , so that we can find and examine it as many times as we want. For this, it provides different mechanisms, including powerful and versatile file managers.

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Retrieve Information: 

Its great capacity to store information would be useless if we could not retrieve it and examine it quickly and easily. In this regard,  the computer offers us the ability to instantly and accurately review any information  that we have previously saved on it.

Transmit Information: 

One of the most important functions of the computer  is the ability to share information between users quickly, safely and accurately . This fantastic function will depend on whether our computer is connected to the Internet or to a local network.

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In this context, tools such as Skype, Hangouts, Line, Dropbox, Google Drive or the ubiquitous email are wonders that allow us to  always be in contact with clients, family and friends to exchange all kinds of things  without having to be together there. place.

What is a computer

To understand what a computer is, we will begin by giving the following definition:  ” A computer is an electronic device used for data processing. It  has  input and output (I / O) devices  that allow users to interact with this information.” .

This data processing  is much more extensive than just calculating numbers or printing data . It is possible to write notes and reports, project, perform complex engineering calculations, use it as a medium for the creation of photographic, musical and video works and of course interact with other people.

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To continue understanding  what a computer is , you have to know how to recognize two basic parts, these are:  the hardware and the software .

The  hardware  is the generic term given to all the physical components of the computer, ie everything you can touch. Instead, software  is the term for programs that run inside a computer.

Do you want to know which was the first computer?

Computer types

Thanks to the evolution that has taken place in terms of development around the components that are a fundamental part of computers , today there is a huge range of types of computers, ranging from microcomputers to so-called supercomputers .

In general lines, when classifying the types of computers that exist today, they are usually cataloged according to their size and power, which results in the types of computers that are detailed below.

The personal computer

This is undoubtedly the best known and most widespread type of computer in the world, also called PC by its acronym in English, which has become the concept “Personal Computer”, and it is basically a small computer that is generally used by a single user, and which is usually based on a microprocessor.

With its arrival on the market at the end of the seventies, without a doubt, the personal computer or PC is today the clearest symbol of the advances that have occurred in the field of technology during the twentieth century, when there was a true revolution in electronics, since it allowed to bring to each home a computer data processing equipment.

Due to the role that personal computers should occupy, they have been developed with the aim of being able to be used for offices and homes, for which among its main characteristics we can mention that it is a type of computer that has a size and capacity suitable for its purpose of use, and prices accordingly.

In general, the operation of personal computers is based on a small chip called a microprocessor, which is basically responsible for the PC to function properly. This microprocessor is the one that controls all the processes carried out by a personal computer.

It is joined by different components that play a fundamental role in the operation of the equipment, including the motherboard or motherboard, the ROM memory, the RAM or Read Only Memory, the hard disk, the power supply, among others.

Currently, personal computers are divided into two types, PCs that usually include the Windows operating system and Apple Macintosh, but in both cases they refer to a computer that is used by a single user and is located microprocessor-based.

However, at this point it should be noted that the configuration of personal computers can also be used by several users, that is, they can be linked to form a network, which is why personal computers increasingly resemble so-called station stations. work, which we will see next.

Types of personal computers

Personal computers also include another subcategorization, since they can be classified according to their physical size. The following are the most common types of personal computers.

Tower: It is a type of computer where its elements, including the power supply, the motherboard and the mass storage devices are placed stacked inside a high cabinet, which offers greater space capacity for the incorporation of devices of additional storage.

Desktop: As its name implies, it is a computer designed so that it can fit on a desktop, so they tend to have a much more compact size than tower ones. These are usually the computers that almost all users own at home, and even in their office.

Portable: This is the famous notebook, whose main characteristic is that it is a light, compact computer, which includes a screen, keyboard and others in its main body, in such a way that the computer can be transported and used anywhere. Despite their small size, laptops have a similar power to that of any desktop computer, although their market value is usually higher.

Tablet: It is a really small computer, whose main characteristic is to have a touch screen with which other elements such as keyboard and mouse are replaced. Although it might seem that due to their size, these types of devices do not offer great processing capabilities, the truth is that due to the technology behind them, today we can find tablets even more powerful than many desktop computers.

So far we have mentioned the most popular personal computers used by hundreds of people around the world, but we could also include netbooks, palmtops and PDAs, among others.

Workstation

The so-called Workstation or Workstation , due to its direct translation from English, consists of a really powerful computer that is generally used by a single user, and although due to this it could be considered a personal computer, the truth is that it is It is in a separate category because it has a much more powerful microprocessor than that included in PCs, in addition to having a higher quality screen or monitor in most cases.

For this reason, we could define the workstation as a computer that has been designed to be used by only one user for professional purposes. This means that this type of computer has a greater processing capacity than that of a conventional personal computer.

Although these types of computers do not allow overly complex calculations, the truth is that because they have a power much greater than that of a PC, they offer the possibility of carrying out tasks that precisely require high power, such as editing video and audio , creating three-dimensional digital models, modeling architectural designs, compiling codes for programming, and more.

Due to their use, workstations are usually used precisely by people who require more power than that offered by a conventional personal computer, but at the same time less power capacity than those included in a mainframe, which we will see later.

Regarding the size of this type of computer, we must bear in mind that thanks to the advancement around technology today it is possible to have a really powerful workstation even on a laptop.

However, one of the aspects that usually characterize workstations is that in general this type of equipment includes large screens, and even on many occasions they usually have multiple screens, since almost always the tasks that are carried out in workstations require a lot of on-screen display space. The same happens with the resolution of this screen, which is also usually of high quality, in order to offer greater clarity and sharpness of display.

Minicomputer

Generally speaking, a minicomputer consists of a multi-user computer that is capable of supporting up to hundreds of users simultaneously. Also called Minicomputer, due to their characteristics we could place them between microcomputers and personal computers.

In any case, it should be noted here that nowadays when talking about microcomputers, the term possibly refers more to those servers that are part of a larger network , generally used in small and medium-sized companies.

In its beginnings, the minicomputer was basically a device that had a limited capacity, and was based on a simple computer system, which included a few essential programs and functions to carry out certain specific tasks, such as for processing text.

However, over the years and the evolution that has occurred in the field of computing, minicomputers have been replaced by normal work computers, which are generally networked to a central system. That is why today many have replaced the term minicomputers with the concept of workstations.

Therefore, in most cases in which so-called minicomputers are used, they are generally applied to a system in which the minicomputer becomes a simple server within small and localized networks.

Mainframe

Broadly speaking, we could define mainframes as powerful multi-user computers, which in general are capable of supporting hundreds or thousands of users simultaneously.

Due to their structure, the so-called mainframes are usually very large computers which were designed with the aim of being able to carry out complex actions and tasks, and in many cases even critical ones.

In addition, it is also due to their internal structure that most of today’s mainframes tend to be of considerable size, and at the same time have a large processing capacity.

Of course, with the advancement of technology, many current mainframes can provide high processing capacity in a small footprint, similar to that of conventional personal computers.

One of the fundamental characteristics of mainframes is that they have been created and designed in order to continue to function beyond any contingency, that is, they continue to function even with the slightest interruption.

At the same time, they have self-maintenance functions, including those related to safety. This is because, in general, in companies, mainframes play a more than relevant role, and that is why they require their continuous operation and an effective security platform.

Among the various functions that are assigned to mainframes, one of the most important tasks that this type of computer must fulfill is to be able to host applications, and at the same time allow multiple users to work with it simultaneously.

For all these reasons, when an internal network is designed in a company, the mainframe is usually one of the most important elements in the system, and that is why they are often compared to the role of the heart or brain in it. human being.

Supercomputer

A supercomputer is basically an extremely fast computer, thanks to which it can carry out hundreds of millions of instructions per second, therefore it operates at a speed much higher than that of other types of computers.

This great capacity for speed, which actually changes constantly with new technological advances, allows fast, sophisticated and powerful processing, which is why in general supercomputers are used in the field of scientific computing, since in this field it is required of equipment that provide high power to perform complex calculations.

Among the main characteristics of supercomputers, we find that they are usually assembled with components from different manufacturers, since it is designed according to the needs of the system in which it will be used, and at the same time most of them usually include a system Linux or Unix operating system, due to the flexibility and efficiency provided by these platforms.

In addition, inside the supercomputers include several processors and have powerful cooling systems to prevent overheating.

Today we can find supercomputers in places like NASA, where this type of equipment is required to perform really complicated tasks and extremely complex calculations.

The Analog Computer

As we have seen throughout this article, a computer is basically a machine through which it is possible to process data and carry out calculations, regardless of its size or power.

Now, why are there so-called digital computers and analog computers? Do they both do the same?

In general terms, when we mention the term “analog” in the field of computing, we can make the mistake of assuring that a digital computer is something completely different from an analog computer , but the truth is that they do not differ too much, and ultimately its function is the same.

Although today most of the computers used around the world are usually digital, the truth is that depending on the characteristics of an analog computer, the latter can perform much better than a digital computer in certain tasks punctual.

Well then, we are going to define the differences that exist between both types of computers.

In principle, it should be noted that the analog and digital computers are fundamentally different due to two main features. On the one hand, both are different in terms of how they work.

While the analog computer works in parallel, which makes it possible for it to perform multiple tasks simultaneously, the digital computer can only carry out one calculation at a time , which we users do not really notice since these The latter manage to achieve much higher processing speeds than analog computers.

It should be noted that it is possible to get a digital computer to perform several calculations at the same time , but for this the equipment must have multiple processors.

On the other hand, another of the differences that exist between both types of computers is that the analog computer can handle continuous variables, while the digital computer works with whole numbers. At this point, we must clarify that continuous variables allow the inclusion of irrational numbers, such as pi.

In this way, the digital computer ends up offering the possibility of only performing limited calculations, since we bear in mind that integers allow only limited decimal fractions.

On the contrary, irrational numbers are characterized by being infinite , so it is logical that some of the more complex calculations that include this type of numbers can only be solved by an analog computer. For this reason, it is the analog computer that is used in the so-called quantum computing.

On the other hand, it is important to note that any equipment or machine that can represent a continuous data state can serve as the basis for an analog computer. Hence, they can be electronic or mechanical.

The digital computer

We have reviewed what are the differences between analog and digital computers, in order to know the main characteristics of analog computers and know what the concept is about. Now, it is worthwhile that we review here some basic notions about the digital computer, which is ultimately the one we use every day at home and at work.

Digital-type computers, in addition to having, of course, a processor, motherboard and RAM and ROM memory, also include some type of device designed to store information, that is, one or more hard drives, and at the same time also include devices for input. and data output, such as keyboards, mice, printers, and more.

In their operation, digital computers have the central objective of storing data in the form of numbers, and based on them perform arithmetic operations, for which these computers use binary numbers.

The always referred to “ones” and “zeros” in computing are precisely those that make up those binary numbers , through which different states are expressed in the machine, representing basic issues such as on and off.

This characteristic of digital computers makes it possible for them to be easily programmed, so that users can have their computer process various sets of different instructions, without having to participate directly in the process, since digital computers, Unlike analog computers, they do not need to be physically reconfigured.

Although with the advancement of technology and the development of increasingly smaller components it has been possible that today’s digital computers can occupy a place in our home or office and allow us to perform the most diverse tasks and calculations, the truth is It will be with the development of nanotechnology when conventional computing makes a qualitative and quantitative leap.

It should be noted at this point that nanotechnology will shortly allow the development of molecular computing elements, which will not only be significantly smaller than the elements that make up a digital computer today, but could also exponentially increase speed and power. of digital computers.

The hydride computer

So far we have reviewed the characteristics of analog and digital computers, as well as known the notable differences that exist between the two, but the so-called hybrid computers have not yet been known.

Broadly speaking, we can say that the so-called “hybrids” are computers that have been designed in order to provide functions and characteristics of analog computers and digital computers.

Basically, the so-called hybrid computers emerge from the mixture of both , in order to bring together the main benefits offered by analog and digital computers.

That is why hybrid computers manage to be truly fast when managing equations, even in the case where complex calculations have to be performed, that is, in the same way as an analog computer does.

Added to this is the fact that hybrid computers include components of digital computers, which allows reaching a really important precision range, in addition to reaching high speeds that are possible only in digital computers.

For all these reasons, hybrid computers are the ones of choice when it is required to manage equations in real time, and when more detailed answers are required. They are usually used in robotics and process control, due to their characteristics.

Embedded systems

One of the most recent technologies in terms of computers are the so-called embedded systems, and that although they are part of people’s activities in one way or another, the truth is that most of the time they go unnoticed because they comply very specific functions, which are generally not taken into account by users.

These devices or embedded systems , also known in some countries as “fixed programming computers” began to be introduced in the early 1980s by IBM.

Basically an embedded system is all that electronic equipment that is integrated into a larger system, and that can consist of both mechanical and electronic parts, but it must also include for its operation some method for data processing, designed with a purpose specific. This is the fundamental difference with respect to a personal computer or PC , which was developed with the possibility of covering several aspects in mind.

Examples of embedded systems are for example vehicle control systems, called ECUs or “Electronic Control Unit” and also as controllers of systems such as ABS braking systems, media players, elevators, photocopiers, ATMs and much more complex technology such as the aerospace industry, machinery and research, among many other fields, including the home, where they take their place in various household appliances such as the refrigerator or microwave oven or in other aspects of the so-called “Internet of things”.

Its expansion to all types of markets occurred thanks to the capacity of embedded systems to facilitate the control of complex devices in a much simpler way and in real time, which led to the fact that at the beginning of the 21st century, many of the devices that surround us in our daily lives can be easily controlled through an embedded system, much easier to use for the average user.

The main processing system an embedded system is generally a microprocessor, however this can vary according to the function that meets the system, which can also be used one FPGA (Field-programmable array gate) or Spanish “Matrix field programmable logic gates ” , or even a DSP.

In this type of hardware systems , the components necessary for it to fulfill its function are integrated into the PCB itself, that is, if the system requires an Internet connection system or a screen to present data, it will be integrated into it, which it offers the benefit of a much more optimized and smaller system, which also translates into performance and lower cost of manufacture and implementation.

Regarding their programming, embedded systems can be programmed either directly through the assembly language of the microcontroller or processor that is being used in the implementation or through C, C ++, interpreted languages ​​such as JAVA or others, always taking into account the type of processor that the embedded system has.

What is software?

It could be said that the software  is what gives life to a computer,  but this would not work if it were not for the hardware, that is, they need each other. The Windows operating system is one of the clearest exponents of software. As we mentioned, Windows is an operating system, that is, the “soul” software of the computer,  the program on which other programs rely to function. Windows is not the only operating system , but it is the most popular.

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What is the hardware?

The  hardware is the term used to refer to the physical components of a computer . They are electronic components, which can be touched. It is the most basic level in which the computer works. All the information that is processed in a computer,  passes if or if by the processor, a chip responsible for that task , of processing information. It is the brain of a computer. Memory is hardware, CD recorder is hardware, monitor is hardware.

A computer is usually known as a PC, which stands for  Personal Computer . In Spain they are known as computers, and elsewhere in Latin America as computers.

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The language of computers

The programming language is an artificial language  that is used to define a  sequence of instructions for further processing . On many occasions, it is unintelligible to ordinary people. We are going to try to clarify some questions in this regard.

The translation of a series of  assembly language instructions  (the source code) into  machine code  (or object code) is not a very complicated process and is usually done by a special program called a  compiler . These instructions are what allow the computer to perform those functions that we, as users, order it.

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The aforementioned compiler creates a list of machine code instructions, the object code, based on source code . The resulting object code is a fast and ready-to-run program, but it can cause your computer to crash if it is not designed properly.

Low-level languages 

Viewed at a very low level,  microprocessors exclusively process binary electronic signals. Giving an instruction to a microprocessor actually means sending series of ones and zeros spaced in time in a certain way. This sequence of signals is called machine code. 

The code usually represents data and numbers and instructions to manipulate them. An easier way to understand  machine code is to give each instruction an easy-to-remember name, such as STORE, ADD, or JUMP.  This abstraction results in the assembler, a very low-level language that is specific to each microprocessor.

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High-level languages

Computers are generally thought of as machines that perform computational or word processing tasks. The description above is just a very schematic way of looking at a PC. There is a high level of abstraction between what is asked of the computer and what it actually understands. There is also a complex relationship between high-level languages ​​and machine code.

High-level languages ​​are usually easy to learn because they are made up of natural language elements , such as English. In  BASIC , the most popular high-level language, commands like ‘IF COUNTER = 10 THEN STOP’ can be used to ask the computer to stop if COUNTER equals 10.

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However,  for many people this way of working is a bit frustrating, because although computers seem to understand natural language, they actually do so in a rigid and systematic way . Thus, nowadays other types of languages ​​are used to be able to execute the functions of a basic computer, whose internal operating language is left to specialists, while  users work with applications that do not require the use of technical jargon.

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