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Hardware and Software

Page history last edited by Kate M. Fisher 12 years, 7 months ago


      Computer hardware and software work together for data processing. [1] Fast calculations and huge storage size are two of the main benefits of computers. Computer were invented based on many human achievements, and today's computer is much different from other ones in the past. Software, in general, consists of various programs that perform certain tasks on a computer. Two examples include, application software and systems software. 

The Pre-History of Electronic Compter

      The development of the modern day computer was the result of advances in technologies and man's need to quantify. Papyrus helped early man to record language and numbers.[12]

       In 3000BC, the abacus was invented in Babylon. [11, P53] It served as one of the first counting machines in history.

       In 1623, Wilhelm Schickard constructed the first mechanical calculating machine, known as “Speeding Clock,” in Germany. [12, P120] The machines existance only was able to be proven by two letters from Shickard and Kepler, as no machine was actually ever seen. The publically known first adding machine was invented by Blaise Pascal in 1642. The machine, which was known as “Pascaline,” could do eight-digit number addition. In 1694, Gottfried Leibniz reformed the “Pascaline” machine and constructed the first such machine that could execute all four basic arithmetical operations. [12, P130]



The "Pascaline" Machine

     In 1801, Jacquard invented a mechanical loom, that consisted of numerous holes punched in pasteboard. Each row of holes on the pasteboard corresponded with one row of the design. [14] Multiple rows of holes were punched on each card, with numerous cards composing the design of the textile. All the cards were strung together in a specific order, thus creating a dynamic design. [13] The punching-hole method was used to store information until the last few years.




Loom with punching-hole technology

     Charles Babbage, in 1822, invented, what he referred to as, the difference engine, which was used to compute values of polynomial functions. Babbage's difference engine was created to calculate a series of values automatically. By using this method of finite differences, it was possible to avoid the need for multiplication and division. [11, P164][15]



    The Difference Engine

     In the year 1889, Herman Hollerith built a machine under contract for the Census Office. It used Jacquard’s punching-hole method to store and calculate data. This machine was used to compute the 1890 census. Within one year, it was able to complete the entire U.S. census, a process which had taken nearly eight years to complete employing past technologies. [15] Hollerith then started his own business in 1896, founding the Tabulating Machine Company. It was renamed the International Business Machine at a later date. It remains still today, one of the largest companies in the United States.

 The World First Electronic Computers

      ENIAC, which is short for Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, was an early electronic, digital, general-purpose, programmable computer. It was the first Turing-complete, digital computer capable of being reprogrammed to solve a full-range of computing problems, although earlier machines had been built with some of these same properties. [17] ENIAC was designed and built to calculate artillery firing tables for the U.S. Army's Ballistic Research Laboratory. It was started on May 31,1943. [11, P270] The ENIAC could be programmed to perform complex sequences of operations, including loops, branches, and subroutines. The task of taking a problem and mapping it onto the machine was quite complex, and usually took weeks to perform. [18] The ENIAC was a signal that showed the appearance of the digital age.  


   Four ENIAC panels and one of its three function tables, on display at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania 

        The ENIAC -- the first electronic computer

Hardware and Software

      Computer hardware is the physical presence of the computer. [9] It can be cataloged by appearance. Personal and laptop computers are cataloged in this way. All computers are organized based on Von Neumann architecture. [2] Von Neumann architecture consists of five parts – Processor, Control Unit, Memory, Input Devices, and Output Devices.

        Present computers’ processor and control unit are combined together, and are referred to as a CPU (Central Processing Unit). There are two main CPU factories in the world, Intel and AMD, which are both American factories. CPUs are often compared with clock rate, also with the number of cores, cache size. [4] The newest CPU is Intel® Core™ i7-965 Processor Extreme Edition, which has a 3.2 GHz clock rate with 4 cores and 8 MB Last Level Cache. [5]  The Intel 4004 was generally regarded as the very first single-chip microprocessor. It has a 0.74MHz clock rate.


  intel 4004 -- the World First CPU

  The world's first CPU

     Memory are divided into two parts – memory and storage. Memory always refers to a form of semiconductor storage, most commonly known as, random access memory (RAM) [3] Storage refers to mass storage and magnetic storage, which are slower but can store more data than RAM. A few examples of this type of storage are, optical disk and hard disk. There are various types of memory (RAM), such as DDR SDRAM (Double Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic RAM). RAM is compared with memory size and bandwidth. Most computers are installed with 1, 2 or 4 GB (Gigabytes) RAM, and DDR 400 SDRAM can exchange data 3.2 GB per second. [6] The storage type mainly used is optical disk or hard disk, but also the USB disk is commonly used. Hard disk is the non-volatile storage for personal computers. It can store the data without power for nearly ten years. Present hard disk has the storage size 250 GB, 500 GB or 1 TB (Terabytes). It is much larger than RAM, but its data exchange speed is much slower, with the highest theoretic speed of 160 MB/s. With SCSI Ultra320 technology, the actual speed is usually between 70 to 80 MB/s. [7] The most popular SATA hard disks only have an actual speed between 20 to 50 MB/s, thus move at a much slower speed than other technologies.

      Input and output (I/O) devices are the interfaces of a computer. Computers can receive and send data through these interfaces. The input devices include keyboard, mouse, video camera, scanner, microphone, etc. The output devices include monitor, printer, speaker, etc. Hard disks also can be considered as a type of  I/O device. These devices are linked to the I/O interfaces of the computer, and can send or receive data with their memory and processor through these interfaces.

      Present multimedia computers are usually equipped with CPU, Memory, Motherboard, Video Card, Sound Card, Keyboard, Mouse, Monitor, Speaker, and some other devices.

      Software is used to process tasks. It includes system software and application software. System software usually presents information to the operating system. There are several types of operating systems. The most common types include, Windows (by Microsoft), Mac OS (by Apple), UNIX (by Sun) and Linux (Open Source). Historically, the DOS (Disk Operating System) used to be the most popular operating system, extending from late 1980's to 1995. The DOS is a single task operating system that is only able to perform one task at any given time. All other systems are multi-task operating systems and can do several tasks at one specific time.

      The operating system's basic function is providing interfaces for application software to run on the computer hardware. You can run the same applications on different computers, employing different hardware,  but using the same operating system, and get the same results regardless.

      Application software includes websites, programs and games. Operating systems support the basic funtions for addition and other sample tasks, application  software combine these functions to more organized ones, and can complete much more complicatied tasks. Microsoft Office Word is the most widely used program for word processing. The newest Office is office 2007, it was released in 2007. Also, there are OpenOffice Software to complete the office works. Also, search engine such as Google, and Social Networking such as Facebook, and online video program such as Youtube are considered as application software, too.

      Software is coded with various types of programming languages, such as C++, ASP, and so on.

      The physical presence of software is the magnetic pole status which stands for 0 or 1. It is called the "binary", referring to the punching-hole method. It is the same theory of storing data.

      Hardware and software can only work together to complete tasks. Hardware has the capability to rapidly calculate basic binary addition and logical judgment. Software manage the work of hardware. [10] The operating system has the basic function of displaying information on a monitor, getting the signal from the keyboard and performing other simple functions. The application software reacts in a pre-set way and was designed by software architecture. 

Implications For Media Ecology

      Hardware and software can be considered as a new form of media. With the multimedia capability, a personal computer can display text, audio, video and images. And 76% of people in the U.S own a computer [8], and most of them linked to the Internet, it can transfer news and other programs much wider and faster than newspaper, television because the Internet is linked all together and it transport electrical signal as the speed of light. And it is mutual, you can react to the news like making a comment to news, or skip the video you don’t like, it is superiority than the television. People get much more information today through the computer. With the computer, the amount of information you can get is million times than the books and television. There are more than 22 billion results from Google if you search the character “1” on it. Books are local because they cannot be moved fast. Television can broadcast faster and wider but it is limited by the network. But the computer linked the world together. 


 [1] Data processing, < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_entry >

[2] Von Neumann Architecture, < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Neumann_architecture >

[3] Computer Storage, < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_storage >

[4] Clock Rate, < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clock_rate >

[5] Intel CPU, < http://compare.intel.com/pcc/default.aspx?familyID=1>

[6]DDR SDRAM, < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DDR_SDRAM>

[7] SCSI, < http://www.storagereview.com/guide2000/ref/hdd/if/scsi/protSpeed.html >

[8] How many people in the us own a computer ,< http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_people_in_the_US_own_a_computer_today >

[9] Miller, Keith W. "Hardware and Software." Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics. Ed. Carl Mitcham. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 896-898. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. Iowa Wesleyan College. 24 Apr. 2008 < http://go.galegroup.com/ps/start.do?p=GVRL&u=mt85337 >.

[10] Software, < http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software >.

[11] Michael, R. Williams, A History of Computing Technology, 2nd Edition. IEEE Computer Society Press. ISBN 0-8186-7739-2

[12] http://www.hitmill.com/computers/computerhx1.html

[13] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph-Marie_Jacquard

[14] http://www.ied.edu.hk/has/comp/comphist/comphist.htm

[15] http://www.computer.org/portal/site/ieeecs/menuitem.c5efb9b8ade9096b8a9ca0108bcd45f3/index.jsp?&pName=ieeecs_level1&path=ieeecs/about/history&file=CShistory.xml&xsl=generic.xsl&

[16] http://home.earthlink.net/~dcrehr/firsttw.html

[17] Shurkin, Joel, Engines of the Mind: The Evolution of the Computer from Mainframes to Microprocessors, 1996, ISBN 0-393-31471-5

[18] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ENIAC#cite_note-2 

Original Author:  Chris Walz, Harry Huang

Comments (5)

Jeff Martinek said

at 2:20 pm on Sep 11, 2008


We're going to need to put some more flesh on these bones.

Galenet's Encyclopedia of Communication and Information has a huge article on computer software here:


Also: Don't forget to look under my links on the class website ("online resources"). If you scroll down to the section called "Guides to Specific Media and their history" you'll see a bunch of very useful links to site about computer history.

For instance: http://www.computer-museum.org/
-- AdmiN (2008-04-07 12:49:20)

Jeff Martinek said

at 2:21 pm on Sep 11, 2008

Also: http://library.thinkquest.org/22522/
-- AdmiN (2008-04-07 12:50:16)

Jeff Martinek said

at 2:21 pm on Sep 11, 2008

Chris, I was wondering if you were going to add any pictures. Also, I thought you did an excellent job of explaining hardware and software. If you wanted to expand you could add who uses hardware and software today...or something along those lines.
-- SarahAnderson (2008-04-24 19:21:56)

Jeff Martinek said

at 4:11 pm on Dec 14, 2008

I've uploaded the article "Software Takes Command" by Lev Manovich here:


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