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What Is an Electronic Digital Computer?

By T.S. Adams
Updated May 16, 2024
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All modern personal computers today are electronic digital computers. An electronic digital computer operates using electricity to fuel digital signals between a processor, random access memory (RAM), and other subsystem components of the computer such as the video card and hard drive. Digital computers can be contrasted with analog computers, which were the first versions of what we know of today as computers. An analog computer uses some physical quantity — be it mechanical or electronic — to perform calculations, while a digital computer uses binary digital signals.

An electronic digital computer functions by channeling electrical current through a power supply. This electricity is routed into the motherboard of the computer, which supplies power to the processor, random access memory, and peripheral connect interface (PCI) devices plugged into the system. Auxiliary components, such as the DVD-ROM drive and the hard drive, receive power directly from the power supply as opposed to through the motherboard.

The computer functions by using the binary language. Electronic digital computers "speak" binary as their native language, which is a language comprised of just two characters: "1" and "0." "1" represents an "on" circuit while "0" represents an "off" circuit. Through a combination string of these characters, any number, letter, or other character can be represented. This type of computer is constantly translating the input from the mouse, the keyboard, and all other peripheral devices into binary.

A processor, or Central Processing Unit (CPU), is the heart and soul of an electronic digital computer. A CPU functions by performing arithmetic operations; it is limited to simple multiplication, addition, subtraction, and division. Its speed is measured in the number of arithmetic operations it can perform each second. This is indicated in Gigahertz (GHz) for modern processors. Processor speeds ranging from 2.0 to 3.0GHz are common for modern processors.

An electronic digital computer stores information in three general places: within the processor's on-board cache memory, in RAM plugged into the motherboard, and on the hard drive. These options are listed in descending order of speed and cost — cache memory is faster and more expensive than RAM, which is faster and more expensive than hard drive storage — but in ascending order of stability. Information stored in the cache is typically flushed the moment the processor finishes using it, while information stored in RAM persists until cleared by another program or the computer is turned off. Hard drive storage is the only storage medium on this type of computer that persists past the power-down state.

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Discussion Comments
By indigomoth — On Nov 13, 2011

The first electronic digital computer was called the Atanasoff–Berry Computer, sometimes referred to as ABC. It wasn't programmable, you could only use it to solve linear equations. And it weighed about 320kg which is over 700 pounds. Not exactly the kind of thing you want sitting on your lap while you read emails in bed.

It was developed back during World War Two.

I learned about it from reading some science fiction novels which mention it. People think it's funny how huge it was, but really when you consider what an enormous leap it was to develop such a thing we all now take for granted, it makes me hope the guys who thought it up were richly rewarded at some point.

By lluviaporos — On Nov 13, 2011

@KoiwiGal - The amount of RAM on your computer is quite important. I'm one of those people who doesn't really understand what everything does, exactly, but I know what to look for to make it work for me.

And, whenever I'm looking to get a new computer, I always check out the RAM first, and compare it to other models around the same price. Generally, all other things being equal, I get the one with the most RAM.

Of course, as you say, it's quite easy to buy more RAM and add it to increase the speed, so I try to take that into consideration as well.

By KoiwiGal — On Nov 12, 2011

If you are experiencing a slower computer than usual you might want to look at buying some more RAM. It's a lot cheaper than it used to be, and you can get a relatively large amount for a good price.

Most certainly it's cheaper than buying a new computer, and often the slowing down occurs because the computer has had more demands put on it, and needs more RAM to answer those demands quickly.

Generally, computers are made so you can add RAM easily. Just have a look online for a tutorial if you aren't sure what to do.

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