When we talk about generations of computers then we are tracing the different generations of computing devices. Every generation of computer devices changed the way we operate the computer and resulted in increasingly smaller, cheaper, and more powerful and efficient devices.
The first generation of computers was entirely based on vacuum tubes which used to store the instructions. They used heavy magnetic drums for storing the memory. The vacuum tubes were a form of light bulbs that contained a cathode and an anode that worked when they were hit with the lights from the bulbs. They contained many numbers of vacuum tubes and this led to computers occupying large spaces.
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Advantage of first generation of computers
- They were the first machine to implement vacuum tubes with electronic circuits.
- They introduced the first form of low-level machine language (ones and zeros) which made the further development of the computer possible.
- These computers were able to perform instructions within fractions of seconds and therefore made the concept of modern-day calculator possible, which was failed when Charles Babbage used water pressures to perform the calculation.
- The machine was developed for scientific and military purposes but later on, the computer shifted entirely to business purposes.
- They were the first machines that can be programmed to execute instructions repeatedly with little human intervention.
- Also, they introduced magnetic drums as a storage device which will later be enhanced to magnetic disk but based on the same concept.
- Brought low-level symbolic programming language.
Disadvantages of First Generation of Computers
- The vacuum tubes radiated a lot of heat as they emitted lights. The heating of the tubes led to the heating of computers and therefore they required air conditioning to keep the room and computer cools. Also, these tubes malfunctioned easily because the component of the tube may heat up and melt causing an error in the instructions and it became tiresome work to replace these vacuum tubes.
- The magnetic drums had a very limited capacity to store the information which limited the capacity of the vacuum tubes to process the instructions.
- The input in the computer was in the form of punch cards and the instructions which were given to the computer were in the form of bundles of punch cards that had to be inserted into the device.
- The speed of the instructions to be processed was very slow if we compare it to the second generation of computers.
- The slow computation and non-portable facility made it non-viable for commercial applications and it will have taken the time when the transistors were introduced to computers to become a commercial application.
- The computers always got heated too much quickly and lack of air conditioning can cause a lot of damage to the computer. The vacuum tubes have to be replaced every day which makes the maintenance task of the computer hectic.
- Because the electrical components can melt easily they sometimes produce inaccurate results.
- They did not have the features to multitask that were provided in the second generation of the computer that means it could perform only one task at a time.
Characteristics of First Generation of computer
Technology Used in First Generation
The time period of the first generation of computers is marked between 1942-1954, whereas the time period of the second generation of computers is between 1955 to 1964.
The Vacuum Tubes marked the beginning of the first generation of computers. The vacuum tubes were used as the basic components for memory and circuitry of the CPU.
The Vacuum Tubes were electrical devices that act as ON/OFF switches or an amplifier. Vacuum tubes contain electrodes to control the flow of electrons. These vacuum tubes were used in the early computers. Later on these vacuum tubes were replaced by the transistors in the second generation.
The Vacuum tubes were popularly used during the 1900s in radio, television sets, amplifier, etc.
The Vacuum tubes were also used as an amplifier to control the electric flow and this property made it a perfect device to control the electron flow in computers.
The Vacuum tubes were used in early computers such as ENIAC, they were spacious computers and required vacuum tubes to be operated continuously.
The Vacuum tubes were replaced by transistors in the second generation and transistors solved many problems that were faced in the vacuum tubes.
Technologies that marked the Generation of computers
|Generation of Computer||Technology|
|First generation||Vacuum tubes|
|Third Generation||Integrated Circuits (IC)|
|Fifth Generation||Artificial Intelligence|
Types of Operating System in the first generation
The main operating system that was used in this generation was the batch operating system.
Batch Processing Operating System – In this operating system the user does not interact directly with the computer system. Instead, the user has to prepare their task to be performed on the computer system beforehand such programs on punch cards and then submit these punch cards to the computer operator. To speed the process these jobs were batched up and processed as a group. The computer operator then inserts the punch card containing the programs in the computer system and then the programmer exits the program along the operator.
Programming Language in the first generation of computer
In the first generation of computers, machine language was only used and they were in the form of binary codes.
For a human programmer, it was a very difficult task to write the programs to the computer system because to write machine language the programmer has to remember the binary codes for add, subtract, multiply, divide, etc. And this made programming to be extremely erroneous and tiresome.
Later in the second generation of computers, the assembly language replaced the machine language.
Hardware Characteristics of First Generation
The first generation of computers generated a lot of heat as compared to the second generation of computers. This is because of vacuum tubes which were similar to electric bulbs which used high resistance metallic wires that were prone to generate heat and due to this reason they were prone to frequent fusing.
Therefore because of high resistance and a lot of heat production the energy consumption increased a lot and this made the first generation of computer more expensive that only large organizations could afford it.
The first generation computer required a lot of space because to operate the computer a lot of vacuum tubes were required.
Examples of the First Generation of Computers
The examples of the first generation of computers include:
The UNIVAC was the first commercial electronic computer. The applications of the first generation of computers were in payroll processing and record-keeping.
Aayush Kumar Gupta is the founder and creator of ExploringBits, a website dedicated to providing useful content for people passionate about Engineering and Technology. Aayush has completed his Bachelor of Technology (Computer Science & Engineering) from 2018-2022. From July 2022, Aayush has been working as a full-time Devops Engineer.