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    PC Background Information


    A personal computer (PC) is any general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals, and which is intended to be operated directly by an end user, with no intervening computer operator.


    A personal computer (PC) is a small computer made more common by a system developed by a company called IBM. PCs usually operate using a system of software known as Windows, by a company called Microsoft Corporation. PCs made by a company called Apple Inc. operate using their own system of software called Mac OS X. A computer user usually works with a mouse and keyboard to interact with the computer (giving it input), and looks at information (output) through a monitor, often a flat LCD screen or a CRT (a cathode ray tube) much like those used in most televisions.

    PCs (and almost any other computer) usually use processors (which handle information given by the user) of brands such as Intel (makers of the Pentium processor) and AMD (or Advanced Micro Devices). Sometimes they may have two processors.

    They have a memory, or RAM (random access memory), for moving information (or data) quickly to and from the processor, a hard drive for holding the data after a computer has been turned off, and usually a floppy drive and a CD-ROM drive for reading and writing data. Flash drives and DVD drives may also be used to read and store data. Computers often have a modem which sends and receives data over a phone line, or will use a network to do the same. Computers also have spaces (or ports) for serial devices such as joysticks, and a fast port called a USB port.

    Computers may be used for work, including doing math quickly, or keeping records; communicating, with online message systems (such as AIM) and e-mail with people across the world; and fun, such as by playing computer games.

    Topics of Interest

    A personal computer (PC) is any general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals, and which is intended to be operated directly by an end user, with no intervening computer operator. This is in contrast to the batch processing or time-sharing models which allowed large expensive mainframe systems to be used by many people, usually at the same time, or large data processing systems which required a full-time staff to operate efficiently.

    A personal computer may be a desktop computer, a laptop, tablet PC or a handheld PC (also called palmtop). The most common microprocessors in personal computers are x86-compatible CPUs. Software applications for personal computers include word processing, spreadsheets, databases, Web browsers and e-mail clients, games, and myriad personal productivity and special-purpose software. Modern personal computers often have high-speed or dial-up connections to the Internet, allowing access to the World Wide Web and a wide range of other resources.

    A PC may be used at home, or may be found in an office. Personal computers can be connected to a local area network (LAN) either by a cable or wirelessly.

    While early PC owners usually had to write their own programs to do anything useful with the machines, today's users have access to a wide range of commercial and non-commercial software which is provided in ready-to-run form. Since the 1980s, Microsoft and Intel have dominated much of the personal computer market with the Wintel platform.

    History Milestones

    The capabilities of the personal computer have changed greatly since the introduction of electronic computers. By the early 1970s, people in academic or research institutions had the opportunity for single-person use of a computer system in interactive mode for extended durations, although these systems would still have been too expensive to be owned by a single person. The introduction of the microprocessor, a single chip with all the circuitry that formerly occupied large cabinets, led to the proliferation of personal computers after 1975. In what was later to be called The Mother of All Demos, SRI researcher Douglas Englebart in 1968 gave a preview of what would become the staples of daily working life in the 21st century - e-mail, hypertext, word processing, video conferencing, and the mouse.

    Early personal computers - generally called microcomputers - were sold often in Electronic kit form and in limited volumes, and were of interest mostly to hobbyists and technicians. Minimal programming was done by toggle switches, and output was provided by front panel indicators. Practical use required peripherals such as keyboards, computer terminals, disk drives, and printers. Micral N was the earliest commercial, non-kit "personal" computer based on a microprocessor, the Intel 8008. It was built starting in 1972 and about 90,000 units were sold. Unlike other hobbyist computers of its day, which were sold as electronics kits, in 1976 Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak sold the Apple I computer circuit board, which was fully prepared and contained about 30 chips. The first complete personal computer was the Commodore PET introduced in January 1977. It was soon followed by the popular Apple II. Mass-market pre-assembled computers allowed a wider range of people to use computers, focusing more on software applications and less on development of the processor hardware.

    Throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s, computers were developed for household use, offering personal productivity, programming and games. Somewhat larger and more expensive systems (although still low-cost compared with minicomputers and mainframes) were aimed for office and small business use. Workstations are characterized by high-performance processors and graphics displays, with large local disk storage, networking capability, and running under a multitasking operating system. Workstations are still used for tasks such as computer-aided design, drafting and modelling, computation-intensive scientific and engineering calculations, image processing, architectural modelling, and computer graphics for animation and motion picture visual effects.

    Eventually due to the influence of the IBM-PC on the personal computer market, personal computers and home computers lost any technical distinction. Business computers acquired color graphics capability and sound, and home computers and game systems users used the same processors and operating systems as office workers. Mass-market computers had graphics capabilities and memory comparable to dedicated workstations of a few years before. Even local area networking, originally a way to allow business computers to share expensive mass storage and peripherals, became a standard feature of the personal computers used at home.

    Market and sales

    As of June 2008, the number of personal computers in use worldwide hit one billion, while another billion is expected to be reached by 2014. Mature markets like the United States, Western Europe and Japan accounted for 58 percent of the worldwide installed PCs. The emerging markets were expected to double their installed PCs by 2013 and to take 70 percent of the second billion PCs. About 180 million computers (16 percent of the existing installed base) were expected to be replaced and 35 million to be dumped into landfill in 2008. The whole installed base grew 12 percent annually.

    In the developed world, there has been a vendor tradition to keep adding functions to maintain high prices of personal computers. However, since the introduction of One Laptop per Child foundation and its low-cost XO-1 laptop, the computing industry started to pursue the price too. Although introduced only one year earlier, there were 14 million netbooks sold in 2008. Besides the regular computer manufacturers, companies making especially rugged versions of computers have sprung up, offering alternatives for people operating their machines in extreme weather or environments.

    Average selling price: For Microsoft Windows systems, the average selling price (ASP) showed a decline in 2008/2009, possibly due to low-cost netbooks, drawing $569 for desktop computers and $689 for laptops at U.S. retail in August 2008. In 2009, ASP had further fallen to $533 for desktops and to $602 for notebooks by January and to $540 and $560 in February. According to research firm NPD, average selling price of all Windows portable PCs has fallen from $659 in October 2008 to $519 in October 2009.


    A typical hardware setup of a desktop computer consists of:

    • computer case with power supply
    • central processing unit (processor)
    • motherboard
    • memory card
    • hard disk
    • video card
    • visual display unit (monitor)
    • optical disc (usually DVD-ROM or DVD Writer)
    • keyboard and pointing device
    • These components can usually be put together with little knowledge to build a computer. The motherboard is a main part of a computer that connects all devices together. The memory card(s), graphics card and processor are mounted directly onto the motherboard (the processor in a socket and the memory and graphics cards in expansion slots). The mass storage is connected to it with cables and can be installed in the computer case or in a separate case. This is the same for the keyboard and mouse, except that they are external and connect to the I/O panel on the back of the computer. The monitor is also connected to the I/O panel, either through an onboard port on the motherboard, or a port on the graphics card.

    Several functions (implemented by chipsets) can be integrated into the motherboard, typically USB and network, but also graphics and sound. Even if these are present, a separate card can be added if what is available isn't sufficient. The graphics and sound card can have a break out box to keep the analog parts away from the electromagnetic radiation inside the computer case. For really large amounts of data, a tape drive can be used or (extra) hard disks can be put together in an external case.

    The hardware capabilities of personal computers can sometimes be extended by the addition of expansion cards connected via an expansion bus. Some standard peripheral buses often used for adding expansion cards in personal computers as of 2005 are PCI, AGP (a high-speed PCI bus dedicated to graphics adapters), and PCI Express. Most personal computers as of 2005 have multiple physical PCI expansion slots. Many also include an AGP bus and expansion slot or a PCI Express bus and one or more expansion slots, but few PCs contain both buses.


    Computer software is a general term used to describe a collection of computer programs, procedures and documentation that perform some tasks on a computer system. The term includes application software such as word processors which perform productive tasks for users, system software such as operating systems, which interface with hardware to provide the necessary services for application software, and middleware which controls and co-ordinates distributed systems.

    Software applications for word processing, Internet browsing, Internet faxing, e-mail and other digital messaging, multimedia playback, computer game play and computer programming are common. The user of a modern personal computer may have significant knowledge of the operating environment and application programs, but is not necessarily interested in programming nor even able to write programs for the computer. Therefore, most software written primarily for personal computers tends to be designed with simplicity of use, or "user-friendliness" in mind. However, the software industry continuously provide a wide range of new products for use in personal computers, targeted at both the expert and the non-expert user.

    Operating system: An operating system (OS) manages computer resources and provides programmers with an interface used to access those resources. An operating system processes system data and user input, and responds by allocating and managing tasks and internal system resources as a service to users and programs of the system. An operating system performs basic tasks such as controlling and allocating memory, prioritizing system requests, controlling input and output devices, facilitating computer networking and managing files.

    Common contemporary desktop OSes are Microsoft Windows (92.77% market share), Mac OS X (5.12%), Linux (0.95%), Solaris and FreeBSD. Windows, Mac, and Linux all have server and personal variants. With the exception of Microsoft Windows, the designs of each of the aforementioned OSs were inspired by, or directly inherited from, the Unix operating system. Unix was developed at Bell Labs beginning in the late 1960s and spawned the development of numerous free and proprietary operating systems.


    A computer user will apply application software to carry out a specific task. System software supports applications and provides common services such as memory management, network connectivity, or device drivers; all of which may be used by applications but which are not directly of interest to the end user. A simple, if imperfect analogy in the world of hardware would be the relationship of an electric light bulb (an application) to an electric power generation plant (a system). The power plant merely generates electricity, not itself of any real use until harnessed to an application like the electric light that performs a service that benefits the user.

    Typical examples of software applications are word processors, spreadsheets, and media players. Multiple applications bundled together as a package are sometimes referred to as an application suite. Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org, which bundle together a word processor, a spreadsheet, and several other discrete applications, are typical examples. The separate applications in a suite usually have a user interface that has some commonality making it easier for the user to learn and use each application. And often they may have some capability to interact with each other in ways beneficial to the user. For example, a spreadsheet might be able to be embedded in a word processor document even though it had been created in the separate spreadsheet application.

    End-user development tailors systems to meet the user's specific needs. User-written software include spreadsheet templates, word processor macros, scientific simulations, graphics and animation scripts. Even email filters are a kind of user software. Users create this software themselves and often overlook how important it is.

    Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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    Last updated: June 2013
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