Question: Name the first operational general purpose computer.

ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer)

  • Development: ENIAC was developed by John Presper Eckert and John Mauchly at the University of Pennsylvania. The project started in 1943 and was completed in 1945. It became fully operational in 1946.
  • Purpose: Originally designed to calculate artillery firing tables for the United States Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratory, ENIAC’s design allowed it to be reprogrammed to solve a variety of numerical problems, making it a general-purpose computer.
  • Design and Specifications:
  • Components: ENIAC contained around 18,000 vacuum tubes, 1,500 relays, and used about 5 million hand-soldered joints. It consumed roughly 150 kW of electricity and weighed about 30 tons.
  • Speed: It could perform about 5,000 additions per second. Multiplications and divisions took longer but were still completed in mere seconds compared to the hours required by manual calculations.
  • Programming: Unlike modern computers, programming ENIAC required manually setting switches and plugging and unplugging cables. This process was time-consuming and labor-intensive.

Significance

ENIAC was a revolutionary advancement in computing. It demonstrated that electronic digital computers were feasible and could outperform existing mechanical and electromechanical computers by several orders of magnitude. Its ability to be reprogrammed for different tasks marked it as a general-purpose machine, influencing the development of future computers and laying the groundwork for the computer revolution that followed.

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