Somewhat larger and more expensive systems were aimed at office and small business use. These often featured column text displays but might not have had graphics or sound capabilities. These microprocessor based systems were still less costly than time-shared mainframes or minicomputers. Workstations were characterized by high-performance processors and graphics displays, with large-capacity local disk storage, networking capability, and running under a multitasking operating system.
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.
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Even local area networking, originally a way to allow business computers to share expensive mass storage and peripherals, became a standard feature of personal computers used at home. In the s, several companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Sony sold off their PC and laptop divisions. As a result, the personal computer was declared dead several times during this period. An increasingly important set of uses for personal computers relied on the ability of the computer to communicate with other computer systems, allowing interchange of information.
Experimental public access to a shared mainframe computer system was demonstrated as early as in the Community Memory project, but bulletin board systems and online service providers became more commonly available after Commercial Internet service providers emerged in the last 's, giving public access to the rapidly growing network.
In , the World Wide Web was made available for public use. The combination of powerful personal computers with high resolution graphics and sound, with the infrastructure provided by the Internet, and the standardization of access methods of the Web browsers , established the foundation for a significant fraction of modern life, from bus time tables through unlimited distribution of free pornography through to online user-edited encyclopedias. A workstation is a high-end personal computer designed for technical, mathematical, or scientific applications.
Intended primarily to be used by one person at a time, they are commonly connected to a local area network and run multi-user operating systems. Workstations are used for tasks such as computer-aided design , drafting and modeling, computation-intensive scientific and engineering calculations, image processing, architectural modeling, and computer graphics for animation and motion picture visual effects. Before the widespread use of PCs, a computer that could fit on a desk was remarkably small, leading to the "desktop" nomenclature.
More recently, the phrase usually indicates a particular style of computer case. Desktop computers come in a variety of styles ranging from large vertical tower cases to small models which can be tucked behind or rest directly beneath and support LCD monitors. While the term "desktop" often refers to a computer with a vertically aligned computer tower case , these varieties usually rest on the ground or underneath desks. Despite this seeming contradiction, the term "desktop" does typically refer to these vertical tower cases as well as the horizontally aligned models which are designed to literally rest on top of desks and are therefore more appropriate to the "desktop" term, although both types qualify for this "desktop" label in most practical situations aside from certain physical arrangement differences.
Both styles of these computer cases hold the systems hardware components such as the motherboard, processor chip, other internal operating parts. Desktop computers have an external monitor with a display screen and an external keyboard, which are plugged into USB ports on the back of the computer case.
Desktop computers are popular for home and business computing applications as they leave space on the desk for multiple monitors. A gaming computer is a desktop computer that has a high-performance video card , processor and memory, to improve the speed and responsiveness of demanding video games.
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An all-in-one computer also known as single-unit PCs is a desktop computer that combines the monitor and processor within a single unit. A separate keyboard and mouse are standard input devices, with some monitors including touchscreen capability. The processor and other working components are typically reduced in size relative to standard desktops, located behind the monitor, and configured similarly to laptops. A nettops computer was introduced by Intel in February , characterized by low cost and lean functionality.
These were intended to be used with an Internet connection to run Web browsers and Internet applications. It is connected to a TV set or an appropriately sized computer display , and is often used as a digital photo viewer, music and video player, TV receiver, and digital video recorder. HTPCs are also referred to as media center systems or media servers. The goal is to combine many or all components of a home theater setup into one box. HTPCs can be purchased pre-configured with the required hardware and software needed to add television programming to the PC, or can be assembled from components.
The potential utility of portable computers was apparent early on. Alan Kay described the Dynabook in , but no hardware was developed. The Xerox NoteTaker was produced in a very small experimental batch around In , the IBM could be fit into a transport case, making it a portable computer, but it weighed about 50 pounds.
Before the introduction of the IBM PC, portable computers consisting of a processor, display, disk drives and keyboard, in a suit-case style portable housing, allowed users to bring a computer home from the office or to take notes at a classroom. The form factor was intended to allow these systems to be taken on board an airplane as carry-on baggage, though their high power demand meant that they could not be used in flight.
The integrated CRT display made for a relatively heavy package, but these machines were more portable than their contemporary desktop equals. Some models had standard or optional connections to drive an external video monitor, allowing a larger screen or use with video projectors. IBM PC-compatible suitcase format computers became available soon after the introduction of the PC, with the Compaq Portable being a leading example of the type.
Later models included a hard drive to give roughly equivalent performance to contemporary desk top computers. The development of thin plasma display and LCD screens permitted a somewhat smaller form factor, called the "lunchbox" computer. The screen formed one side of the enclosure, with a detachable keyboard and one or two half-height floppy disk drives, mounted facing the ends of the computer.
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Some variations included a battery, allowing operation away from AC outlets. These machines had a keyboard with slightly reduced dimensions compared to a desktop system, and a fixed LCD display screen coplanar with the keyboard. These displays were usually small, with 8 to 16 lines of text, sometimes only 40 columns line length.
However, these machines could operate for extended times on disposable or rechargeable batteries. Although they did not usually include internal disk drives, this form factor often included a modem for telephone communication and often had provisions for external cassette or disk storage. Later, clam-shell format laptop computers with similar small plan dimensions were also called "notebooks".
A laptop computer is designed for portability with " clamshell " design, where the keyboard and computer components are on one panel, with a hinged second panel containing a flat display screen. Closing the laptop protects the screen and keyboard during transportation. Laptops generally have a rechargeable battery , enhancing their portability. To save power, weight and space, laptop graphics cards are in many cases integrated into the CPU or chipset and use system RAM, resulting in reduced graphics performance when compared to a desktop machine.
For this reason, desktop computers are usually preferred over laptops for gaming purposes. Unlike desktop computers, only minor internal upgrades such as memory and hard disk drive are feasible owing to the limited space and power available.
Laptops have the same input and output ports as desktops, for connecting to external displays, mice, cameras, storage devices and keyboards. Laptops are also a little more expensive compared to desktops, as the miniaturized components for laptops themselves are expensive. A desktop replacement computer is a portable computer that provides the full capabilities of a desktop computer. Such computers are currently large laptops. This class of computers usually includes more powerful components and a larger display than generally found in smaller portable computers, and may have limited battery capacity or no battery.
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Netbooks , also called mini notebooks or subnotebooks , are a subgroup of laptops  suited for general computing tasks and accessing web-based applications. Initially, the primary defining characteristic of netbooks was the lack of an optical disc drive, smaller size, and lower performance than full-size laptops. By mid netbooks had been offered to users "free of charge", with an extended service contract purchase of a cellular data plan.
A tablet uses a touchscreen display, which can be controlled using either a stylus pen or finger. Some tablets may use a "hybrid" or "convertible" design, offering a keyboard that can either be removed as an attachment, or a screen that can be rotated and folded directly over top the keyboard. Some tablets may use desktop-PC operating system such as Windows or Linux, or may run an operating system designed primarily for tablets. Many tablet computers have USB ports, to which a keyboard or mouse can be connected. Smartphones are often similar to tablet computers , the difference being that smartphones always have cellular integration.
They are generally smaller than tablets, and may not have a slate form factor. It was developed by Microsoft , Intel and Samsung , among others. A pocket PC is a hardware specification for a handheld-sized computer personal digital assistant , PDA that runs the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system. Pocket PCs have many of the capabilities of desktop PCs. Numerous applications are available for handhelds adhering to the Microsoft Pocket PC specification, many of which are freeware.
In , with the release of Windows Mobile 6, Microsoft dropped the name Pocket PC in favor of a new naming scheme: devices without an integrated phone are called Windows Mobile Classic instead of Pocket PC, while devices with an integrated phone and a touch screen are called Windows Mobile Professional. Computer hardware is a comprehensive term for all physical and tangible parts of a computer, as distinguished from the data it contains or operates on, and the software that provides instructions for the hardware to accomplish tasks.
Some sub-systems of a personal computer may contain processors that run a fixed program, or firmware , such as a keyboard controller. Firmware usually is not changed by the end user of the personal computer. Most s-era computers only require users to plug in the power supply, monitor, and other cables. A typical desktop computer consists of a computer case or "tower" , a metal chassis that holds the power supply , motherboard , hard disk drive , and often an optical disc drive. Most towers have empty space where users can add additional components.
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External devices such as a computer monitor or visual display unit , keyboard , and a pointing device mouse are usually found in a personal computer. The motherboard connects all processor, memory and peripheral devices together. The RAM , graphics card and processor are in most cases mounted directly onto the motherboard. The central processing unit microprocessor chip plugs into a CPU socket , while the memory modules plug into corresponding memory sockets.
The graphics card or sound card may employ a break out box to keep the analog parts away from the electromagnetic radiation inside the computer case. Disk drives, which provide mass storage, are connected to the motherboard with one cable, and to the power supply through another cable.
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Usually, disk drives are mounted in the same case as the motherboard; expansion chassis are also made for additional disk storage. For large amounts of data, a tape drive can be used or extra hard disks can be put together in an external case. Capabilities of the personal computers hardware can sometimes be extended by the addition of expansion cards connected via an expansion bus. A peripheral is "a device connected to a computer to provide communication such as input and output or auxiliary functions such as additional storage ".