The Microcomputer reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Microcomputer

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Generally, a microcomputer is a computer with a microprocessor (õP) as its CPU. Another general characteristic of these computers is that they occupy physically small amounts of space.

Most of the equipment used by a microcomputer is tightly integrated within a single case, although some equipment may be connected at short distances outside the case, such as monitors, keyboards, mice, etc. In general, a microcomputer will not get much bigger than can be put onto most tables or desks. By contrast, bigger computers like minicomputers, mainframes, and supercomputers may take up some portion of a large cabinet or even an entire room.

Most microcomputers serve only a single user at a time, but some, in the form of PCs and workstations running e.g. a UNIX(-like) operating system, may cater to several users concurrently. The õP does most of the job of calculating on and manipulating data that all computers do. Along with the CPU, a computer comes equipped with two types of data storage, a very high-speed, volatile device known as RAM, and lower-speed non-volatile devices known as disk drives.

Other devices that make up a complete microcomputer system include its power supply, and various input/output devices that are used to convey information to and from a human operator (printers, monitors, human interface devices).

History

The world's first commercial microprocessor was the Intel 4004, released on November 15 1971. The 4004 processed 4 binary digits (bits) of data in parallel; in other words, it was a 4-bit processor.

At the turn of the century 30 years later, microcomputers in embedded systems (built into home appliances, vehicles, and all sorts of equipment) most often are 8-bit, 16-bit or 32-bit. Desktop/consumer microcomputers, like PCss, are mostly 32-bit, while some science/engineering workstations as well as database and financial transaction servers are 64-bit (with one or more CPUs).

After the launch by IBM of their IBM PC, the term Personal Computer (q.v) became generally used for a consumer-friendly microcomputer. The second generation of microcomputers (8-bit, early 1980s) were often referred to as home computers (q.v.).

It was the launch of the VisiCalc spreadsheet (for the Apple II) that first turned the microcomputer from a hobby for computer enthusiasts into a business tool.

See also