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First Electronic Computer (Size, Components, and Uses)

first electronic computer

In computer science, a digital electronic computer is a computer machine that is both an electronic and a digital device. A computer is a device that takes input from the user, processes the input, and gives out the output. Examples of digital electronic computers include the IBM PC, the Apple Macintosh as well as modern smartphones.

Difference Between Electronic and Analog Devices

The most significant difference between analog and digital electronics is that analog electronics deals with continuously varying signals while digital electronics deal with two-state (binary) signals. These two states are referred to as ON(denoted by $1$) and OFF(denoted by $0$). The digits(or symbols) $1$ and $0$ are called Bits(singular Bit) and the values are called boolean values.

In today’s technologies, both analog and digital electronics are equally used to implement the most efficient and fast processing systems such as robotics, quantum computing, telecommunication, etc.

first electronic computer

First Electronic Computer

ENIAC, (abbreviated form Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), was the first programmable general-purpose electronic digital computer, built during World War II by the United States. American physicist John Mauchly, American engineer J. Presper Eckert, Jr., and their colleagues at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania led a government-funded project to build an all-electronic computer. 

Under contract to the army and under the direction of Herman Goldstine, work began in early 1943 on ENIAC. The next year, mathematician John von Neumann began frequent consultations with the group.

ENIAC was something less than the dream of a universal computer. Designed specifically for computing values for artillery range tables, it lacked some features that would have made it a more generally useful machine. It used plugboards for communicating instructions to the machine; this had the advantage that, once the instructions were thus “programmed,” the machine ran at electronic speed. Instructions read from a card reader or other slow mechanical device would not have been able to keep up with the all-electronic ENIAC. The disadvantage was that it took days to rewire the machine for each new problem. This was such a liability that only with some generosity could it be called programmable.

first electronic computer
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Maths can be really interesting for kids

Size and Components of ENIAC

ENIAC was enormous. It occupied the 50-by-30-foot (15-by-9-meter) basement of the Moore School, where its 40 panels were arranged, U-shaped, along three walls. Each panel was about 2 feet wide by 2 feet deep by 8 feet high (0.6 meters by 0.6 meters by 2.4 meters). With more than 17,000 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, 6,000 switches, and 1,500 relays, it was easily the most complex electronic system theretofore built.

ENIAC ran continuously (in part to extend tube life), generating 174 kilowatts of heat and thus requiring its own air conditioning system. It could execute up to 5,000 additions per second, several orders of magnitude faster than its electromechanical predecessors. It and subsequent computers employing vacuum tubes are known as first-generation computers. (With 1,500 mechanical relays, ENIAC was still transitional to later, fully electronic computers.)

How Did the ENIAC Work?

Unlike the computers of the present day, the ENIAC was designed with one specific goal. It was programmed to compute the values of artillery range tables. Plugboards were used to relay instructions to the machine, which could then do the computations at high speed. This was a major time-saver compared to other computers of the era, which used punchcard readers or other mechanical devices that slowed the machines down. Unfortunately, the drawback to the plugboards was that each time the programmers wanted the computer to work on a new problem, it had to be shut down for days so that the wires plugged into the plugboard could be reconfigured.

Even with that drawback, the ENIAC was still the most powerful computer of its time. It is considered the first general electronic digital computer that was programmable. It was designed to use conditional branching; this means that like the Analytical Engine designed by Charles Babbage or the British computer Colossus (also built during World War II), it could be given instructions to take different actions depending on the value of one data point. This made ENIAC a flexible machine. Even though it was designed to calculate artillery range tables, it was possible to reprogram the machine for many other uses.

Did You Know?

In celebration of ENIAC’s 50th Anniversary, the machine was reimplemented using modern integrated circuit technology. The room-sized computer could now fit in the palm of your hand.

first electronic computer
Types of Images

Practice Problems

  1. Any continuous signal representing some other quantity is called 
    • Analog signal
    • Digital signal
  2. A signal that represents data as a sequence of discrete values
    • Analog signal
    • Digital signal
  3. The binary digits are
    • 1 and 2
    • 0 and 1
    • 1 and 10
    • 10 and 100
  4. Which of the following devices consumes more power?
    • Analog devices
    • Digital devices

FAQs

Who invented the first electronic computer?

American physicist John Mauchly, American engineer J. Presper Eckert, Jr., and their colleagues at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania invented the first electronic computer.

What does ENIAC stand for?

ENIAC is an abbreviated form of Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer.

What did the first electronic computer do?

ENIAC was designed and built for the United States Army to calculate artillery firing tables.

Conclusion

ENIAC, (abbreviated form Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), was the first programmable general-purpose electronic digital computer, built during World War II by the United States. It was enormous in size consisting of more than 17,000 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, 6,000 switches, and 1,500 relays. It consumed a very large power of 150 kW.

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