What Is a Midrange Computer?

Eugene P.

"Midrange computer" is a loosely defined term for a computer system that is more powerful than a general-purpose personal computer but less powerful than a full-size mainframe computer. In most instances, a midrange computer is employed as a network server when there are a small to medium number of client systems. The computers generally have multiple processors, a large amount of random access memory (RAM), and large hard drives. Additionally, they usually contain hardware that allows for advanced networking, and ports for connecting to more business-oriented peripherals such as large-scale data storage devices. The use of a midrange computer is not limited to businesses, however, as some people build or purchase midrange systems when high-end personal computers are insufficient, as could be the case with complex real-time image processing or computer gaming.

A dual core CPU mounted to a motherboard.
A dual core CPU mounted to a motherboard.

There is no single definition of what constitutes a midrange computer system. In general, it refers to a system with installed hardware that has higher operating specifications than what typically is found in the broader consumer retail market. At the same time, the systems are considered midrange because the hardware is not as powerful as a larger mainframe system that often uses components specifically designed for business or industrial networking, security and redundancy. One noticeable difference between a midrange system and a mainframe is that the midrange system often retains a large amount of functionality as a stand-alone personal computer, while a mainframe is geared primarily toward being a network host.

A midrange computer often has a large hard drive capacity.
A midrange computer often has a large hard drive capacity.

The central processing unit (CPU) on a midrange computer is frequently a multi-core design, meaning there are several physical processing chips on the motherboard working in tandem. This allows a midrange system that is being used as a network server to run several independent processes concurrently, increasing the speed and efficiency of the computer. The large amount of RAM and hard drive space, sometimes containing more than a terabyte of storage, allows the computer to run complex networking software and to maintain sizeable databases.

When used in a network environment, a midrange computer is capable of acting as a server for several dumb terminals, with all processing taking place within the server. For more computationally intensive settings, such as scientific simulation and research, a midrange system might require that each client actually be a functional low-end personal computer that can perform some processing on its own. If being used in the home, some of the networking and speed benefits of a midrange computer can be capped or go unused because many consumer-level computer products and services, such as a digital subscriber line (DSL) or low-end graphics software, are incapable of taking advantage of the increased capabilities of a midrange system.

Some companies use midrange computers as servers for a number of dumb terminals.
Some companies use midrange computers as servers for a number of dumb terminals.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


@Terrificli -- Haven't people always been able to make that argument, though? Perhaps what will happen is that midrange computers will just get more powerful as they tend to evolve right along with personal computers.

It has never been uncommon to find people using personal computers as midrange servers. Still, you've got to believe that midrange systems will become more powerful and allow people to do more things with them than they have in the past.

The problem with defining what a midrange computer is has to do with the evolution of technology. That midrange computer from a few years ago might actually be less powerful than the personal computer you can buy today for about $400. Still, that old midrange computer might still have enough firepower to handle modern programs. That is a major difference. Powerful midrange computers don't go obsolete quickly, meaning they can be workhorses for years.


You could make the argument that a good number of the personal computers out there right now will serve as good replacements for midrange computers. Think about it. Multi-core CPUs, huge hard drives and a lot of RAM are all becoming standard equipment.

I know more than one company that would have no trouble plugging in a retail-level computer as a server for a medium-sized workforce or even as a full-blown Internet server for smaller customers.

Post your comments
Forgot password?