Microcomputer

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A microcomputer is a computer with a microprocessor as its central processing unit. They are physically small compared to mainframe and minicomputers. Many microcomputers (when equipped with a keyboard and screen for input and output) are also personal computers (in the generic sense).[2][3]

The abbreviation "micro" was common during the 1970s and 1980s,[4] but has now fallen out of common usage.

Contents

Origins

The term "Microcomputer" came into popular use after the introduction of the minicomputer, although Isaac Asimov used the term microcomputer in his short story "The Dying Night" as early as 1956 (published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in July that year). Most notably, the microcomputer replaced the many separate components that made up the minicomputer's CPU with one integrated microprocessor chip.

The earliest models such as the Altair 8800 were often sold as kits to be assembled by the user, and came with as little as 256 bytes of RAM, and no input/output devices other than indicator lights and switches, useful as a proof of concept to demonstrate what such a simple device could do.

However, as microprocessors and semiconductor memory became less expensive, microcomputers in turn grew cheaper and easier to use:

  • Increasingly inexpensive logic chips such as the 7400 series allowed cheap dedicated circuitry for improved user interfaces such as keyboard input, instead of simply a row of switches to toggle bits one at a time.
  • Use of audio cassettes for inexpensive data storage replaced manual re-entry of a program every time the device was powered on.
  • Large cheap arrays of silicon logic gates in the form of Read-only memory and EPROMs allowed utility programs and self-booting kernels to be stored within microcomputers. These stored programs could automatically load further more complex software from external storage devices without user intervention, to form an inexpensive turnkey system that does not require a computer expert to understand or to use the device.

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