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A generation is often referred to the state of improvement in the development of a product. Generation of computer is the advancement of computer technology from time to time.

In every generation, the circuitry has become smaller and more advanced than the previous generation. Each generation of computer is characterized by a major technological development.


There are five generations of computer, which are

  • First generation (1940 – 1956)
  • Second generation (1956 – 1963)
  • Third generation (1964 – 1971)
  • Fourth generation (1971 – 1983)
  • Fifth generation (1983 – present and beyond)


First Generation of Computer (1940 – 1956)

Technology: Use of vacuum tubes in electronic circuits. These tubes controlled internal operations and were large which made the machine to be very large and to occupy much space.

Storage capacity: Magnetic drum was the primary internal storage medium which is limited in size.

Slow Input/Output: Input/output operations are made through the use of punched card which is very slow.

Heat and maintenance problem. This generation generates high level of heat due to the use of tube and special air conditioning and maintenance were required.

Low-level symbolic programming language with long stripe of numbers made of zeros and ones were in use.

Application: The computers were used for payroll processing and record keeping. Examples are IBM 650, UNIVAC I and ENIAC


Second Generation of Computer (1956 – 1963)

Technology: Transistors were used for the internal operation. They replaced vacuum tube of first generation. They are smaller and faster in operation.

Storage Capacity: Magnetic core was the primary internal storage and magnetic tape was used for external storage which replaced punched card and paper tape.

Faster Input/Output: Devices could be connected directly to the computer. This made printing faster and easy, detection and correction of error.

High Level Programming: COBOL, FORTRAN were used for programming. FORTRAN (FORmular TRANslator) was the first widely accepted programming language used scientific application, COBOL (Common Business Orinted Langauage) was developed in 1961 for business data processing. It helped in file processing, editing and input/output capabilities

Application: Payroll processing, billing, updating and inventory files.

Examples: IBM 1401, Honey well 200, CDC 1604 and 3600, IBM 7070.


Third Generation of Computer (1964 – 1971)

Technology: The integrated circuit (IC) replaced the transistors of second generation.

Second Capacity: Magnetic core and solid state main storage was developed. Input/output were more flexible and it was disk oriented. This generation computers were smaller in size, had better performance and more reliability due to advances in solid-state technology.

High Level Programming language: There are many software industries that emerged during this generation. The programming language of second generations were improved to reduce cost of writing new programs.

Introduction of Mini Computer: The mini computers offered many of the same features as the mainframe computers on a smaller scale.

Time sharing and remote processing: Third generation computers were able to perform several operations at the same time. Remote terminals were developed to communicate with a central computer over a specific geographical location. There is availability of operating system (software) to control input/output operation.

Application: This generation of computers were used as airline reservation systems, market forecasting, credit card billing, inventory, control and scheduling labour and materials. There was also multi-tasking in this generation where both scientific and business application could run on the same machine. Examples: IBM systems 360, 370, NCR 395, VAX -750, etc.


Four Generation of Computer (1971 – 1983)

Technology: Use of Large Scale Integrated Circuit (LSIC) or microprocessor, the first micro-processor was developed in the fourth generation. It contains the equivalent of 2300 transistors and was a 4 bits processor. Micro computers were introduced in this generation.

Storage Capacity: There is increase storage capacity and speed.

Special Application Programs:  Network operating systems were introduced, e.g. Apple Macintosh, the use of Graphic User Interface (GUI) was also introduced.

Versatility of input and output devices:

More input and output devices were introduced e.g. mouse, trackball and other handheld devices.

Applications: Fourth generation computers were used for mathematical modeling and simulation, electronic funds transfer, computer Aided instruction and internet.

Super computer was also introduced in this generation. Examples: IBM 4341, DEC 10, APPLE 11, STAR 1000, etc.


Fifth Generation (1983 – present)

This generation is referred to a Knowledge Information Processing System (KIPS).

Technology:  It was Very Large Scale Integrated Circuit (VLSIC). Introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is the branch of computer science concerned with making computers behave like humans. It has mega-chip memories.

The processing speed is very high and it can perform parallel processing. The concept of Artificial Intelligence allows the computer to take its own decision.

Artificial Intelligence Include:

  • Games playing – programming computer to play games
  • Natural language – programming computer to understand human languages.
  • Neural network (Expert System): Programming computer to make decision in real life.
  • Robotics – programming computer to see, hear and react to other sensory stimuli.

Neural Network: Systems that simulate intelligence by attempting to reproduce the type of physical connections that occur in animal brain.


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