History of computing hardware

The history of computing hardware covers the developments from early simple devices to aid calculation to modern day computers. Before the 20th century, most calculations were done by humans. Early mechanical tools to help humans with digital calculations, like the abacus, were referred to as calculating machines or calculators (and other proprietary names). The machine operator was called the computer.

Computing hardware is a platform for information processing.
Parts from four early computers, 1962. From left to right: ENIAC board, EDVAC board, ORDVAC board, and BRLESC-I board, showing the trend toward miniaturization.

The first aids to computation were purely mechanical devices which required the operator to set up the initial values of an elementary arithmetic operation, then manipulate the device to obtain the result. Later, computers represented numbers in a continuous form (e.g. distance along a scale, rotation of a shaft, or a voltage). Numbers could also be represented in the form of digits, automatically manipulated by a mechanism. Although this approach generally required more complex mechanisms, it greatly increased the precision of results. The development of transistor technology and then the integrated circuit chip led to a series of breakthroughs, starting with transistor computers and then integrated circuit computers, causing digital computers to largely replace analog computers. Metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) large-scale integration (LSI) then enabled semiconductor memory and the microprocessor, leading to another key breakthrough, the miniaturized personal computer (PC), in the 1970s. The cost of computers gradually became so low that personal computers by the 1990s, and then mobile computers (smartphones and tablets) in the 2000s, became ubiquitous.