Computers: First generation | Technology + IT

It’s amazing how computers have gone from taking up entire rooms and weighing several tons to being able to sit comfortably on our knees.

What will you find here ?: Evolution, technology and functions of first generation computers.

More to see: The most comprehensive development over generations of computers >>

If you want to focus only on how this evolution of computers started, in this article you will find the answers.

When, where, how and why did the first generation of computers appear?

The first generation of computers It is a category that includes the early designs of electronic computers. You could say that this generation of computers was born in 1938, from the hand of the German computer Z1, built with electromechanical elements.

The Z1 computer is considered to be the one that launched the first generation of computers in 1938.

This was followed by many others, such as Colossus, ENIAC, UNIVA and others who gradually introduced things that would make them better and faster, such as vacuum valves to replace relays.

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Although it may sound a bit dramatic, most first generation computers They were designed to be more effective at killing our fellow human beings. These computers were developed for war purposes by nations that were at war at the time or were preparing to enter it.

This is why they needed new devices which could offer them greater precision in the calculations, like ENIAC, which was used to make ballistic calculations and thus improve the effectiveness of the guns. It was also used for the development of calculations for the hydrogen bomb.

However, these first computers, Although limited, they have succeeded in establishing mechanisms and procedures that are used to this day, well beyond the realm of military action, such as weather forecasting, cosmic ray studies, wind tunnels and many other scientific studies not related to war.

What is the first generation of computers?

The first generation of computers encompasses all computers designed and built between the early 1940s and 1956.

These computers made during this era all have one thing in common, which is that they are built with vacuum valves, relays, punch cards, and discrete components. All technological elements of analog electronics.

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This first generation of computers, Although they were very complicated to operate, maintain and commission, they marked the beginning of an era, that of great discoveries and technological evolution. Without these first generation computers, the world would be very different from the one we know.

Computers of the first generation are clearly distinguished by their size, not strictly related to their power.

But also for having been developed, for the most part, for warlike purposes. How sad to think that much of the technology we use today comes from the death market.

However, they allowed us to achieve goals that we thought would be distant, or that would take a long time to achieve, such as space travel. Even the Internet, the mainstay of modern society, it would be an idea that some would have, but it would be impossible to achieve.

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First generation computers

Without a doubt, the most interesting feature of first generation computers is that they used vacuum valves to do calculations. This fact marked that they were really huge and heavy, and that a great deal of energy was needed to make them work.

They were also quite complex to program, which required highly qualified personnel. From this moment, we will know the most important examples of first generation computers.

  • Z1 (1938): The German computer Z1 is honored to be the first computer put into operation. This equipment was developed by Konrad Zuse using electromechanical elements and served well at the time. However, because it was a development of a politically rarefied Germany, it did not get the credit it deserved. This design was followed in 1939 by the Z2, and in 1941 by the Z3, with both teams using relays.
  • ENIAC (1944): This computer is commonly referred to as the first in history, but this credit goes to the German Z1. This American computer was developed by John W. Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert at the University of Pennsylvania. ENIAC was able to solve 5000 additions or 300 multiplications in 1 second.

“ENIAC consisted of 18,000 vacuum valves, consumed around 160 kW of electrical energy and weighed 27 tonnes.”

  • Colossus (1944): Computer Colossus It was used to decrypt German encrypted messages during WWII. Developed and manufactured by England.
  • Z4 (1945): The Z4 computer is a redesign of the first German Z-type computers. It was the first computer in the world to be commercially sold, which happened in 1950.
  • EDVAC (1949): EDVAC included in its design concepts that would later be used in the development of the computers we know today. It was a programmable computer. EDVAC was already binary, and it has the honor of having been the first computer to be able to store a program.
  • UNIVAC I (1951): Another example of how sometimes the story is not told correctly. UNIVAC is considered the first commercial computer to be sold, However, before that, the German Z4 and the English Feranti Mark I were sold first.
  • IBM 701 (1953): The IBM 701 Computer This was the first development of this famous company, known as the “defense calculator”. It has the honor of being IBM’s first commercial scientific computer.
  • Zuse Z22 (1955): German computer developed by Konrad Zuse, designer of the Z1, the first computer, the Z3 and the Z4. All of these models used electromechanical devices such as relays, but the Z22 began to use vacuum valve technology.

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Features of the first generation of computers

At this point, it should be noted that there were two main types of first generation computers. Those fully electromechanical like the German Z1, and those who had a hybrid technology composed of vacuum valves and relays.

However, all of these computers had a lot in common, since they were programmed in machine language, which has been entered by specialists by means of punched cards. The same goes for the programs and data necessary for its operation.

The method used to store the data was memories built with tubes of liquid mercury, in addition to magnetic drums.

What technology did the first generation computers use?

Essentially the Central Processing Units or CPUs of the first generation computers they used a mixture of electromechanical components such as relays and switches, vacuum valves, discrete components and nothing else.

Batch processing operating systems were used and data was captured and stored on punch cards, magnetic tapes and paper tapes.

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What was the first function of the computer?

The first function of these early computers was none other than to do calculations.

In this sense, if we take the first computer, the German Z1, we see that it only had a memory of 64 words of 22 bits and two floating point registers of 22 bits each. This however allowed you to do addition, subtraction, division and multiplication in just under 10 seconds, depending on the type of operation.

This means that these gigantic computers weighing several tons only performed calculations that allowed other projects to be carried out, they had no specific function.

How is the story going? … Still there, with the second generation of computers