1. In 1948 due to the invention of transistors there appeared
the possibility to replace vacuum tubes. The transistor occupied
an important place on the way to computer development. The
potential advantage of the transistor over the vacuum tube was
almost as great as that of the vacuum tube over the relay. A tran­
sistor can switch flows of electricity as fast as the vacuum tubes
used in computers, but the transistors use much less power than
equivalent vacuum tubes, and are considerably smaller. Transis­
tors are less expensive and more reliable.They were mechani­
cally rugged, had practically unlimited life and could do some
jobs better than electronic tubes. Transistors were made of crys-
tallic solid material called semiconductor.

With the transistor came the possibility of building computers with much greater complexity and speed.

2. The integrated circuit constituted another major step in
the development of computer technology. Until 1959 the
fundamental logical components of digital computers were the
individual electrical switches, first in the form of relays, then
vacuum tubes, then transistors. In the vacuum tubes and relay
stages, additional discrete components, such as resistors,
inductors, and capacitors were required in order to make the
whole system work. These components were generally each
about the same size as packaged transistors. Integrated circuit

Английский язык. Основы компьютерной грамотности 64

technology permitted the elimination of some of these components and integration of most of the others on the same chip of semiconductor that contains the transistor. Thus the basic logic element — the switch, or "flip-flop', which required two separate transistors and some resistors and capacitors in the early 1950s, could be packaged into a single small unit in 1960. The chip was an important achievement in the accelerating step of computer technology.

3. In 1974 a company in New Mexico, called Micro Instrumentation Telemetry System (MITS) developed the Altair 8800, a personal computer (PC) in a kit. The Altair had no keyboard, but a panel of switches with which to enter the information. Its capacity was less than one per cent that of the 1991 Hewlett-Packard handheld computer. But the Altair led to a revolution in computer electronics that continues today. Hardware manufacturers soon introduced personal computers, and software manufacturers began developing software to allow the computers to process words, manipulate data, and draw. During the 1980s computers became progressively smaller, better and cheaper.

Today the personal computer can serve as a work station for the individual. A wide array of computer functions are now accessible to people with no technical background.

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