The first generation of computers refers to the early stages of computer
development. This generation is the beginning of computer technology that
gained further progress to make computers more powerful and smaller.
Although new innovations have added to computers and are also constantly being
added, we cannot ignore the importance of the first generation. Therefore, in
this article, we are going to discuss about the first generation of computers,
its history, examples, advantages and disadvantages, and more.
What You Will Learn
What is the first generation of Computer?
Although the development of computers began around 1940, the first generation
of computers is considered from
1946 to 1959. During this period, computers were developed using
vacuum tubes as the main
component. Vacuum tubes helped provide circuitry for the central processing
unit. In addition, punch-cards, paper tape, and magnetic tape were the other
basic components used for input-output devices and memory needs.
Note: A vacuum tube is a device that helps amplify signals by
controlling the motion of electrons in an evacuated space. It was invented by
Lee de Forest.
The following image shows the structural view of Vacuum Tubes:
Because vacuum tubes were much larger in size at the time, they eventually led
to larger computer sizes. First-generation computers took up a lot of space in
one room, even a whole room for some computers. Also, like electric bulbs,
vacuum tubes used a large amount of electricity and also produced a lot of
heat. The installation of vacuum tubes was so complex that they often fused.
All these factors resulted in the development of the first generation computer
became expensive. Therefore, first-generation computers were expensive and
only large organizations were able to afford them.
In terms of software needs, first-generation computers relied on machine
language, which is called the lowest-level programming language and can be
easily understood by computers. Although it helped computers perform a variety
of tasks, it allowed them to solve one operation at a time. First-generation
computers had no multitasking support. Depending on the complexity of the
operation, computers took days or even weeks to complete them.
Examples of First Generation Computers
ENIAC (Electronic Numeric
Integrated and Calculator) and
UNIVAC (UNIVersal Automatic
Computer) are great examples of first-generation computers. The ENIAC was the
first successful electronic computer, developed by
J. Presper Eckert and
J. W. Mauchly. On the other hand, UNIVAC was the first commercial computer invented by
them. In 1951, UNIVAC was given to the US Census Bureau.
Note: The ENIAC was built using approximately 20,000 vacuum tubes,
combined with about 10,000 capacitors and 70,000 resistors. A large room was
needed to properly place it. The weight of this first generation computer was
measured at over 30 tons.
Some other examples of the first generation computers are listed below:
• Manchester Mark 1, Mark 2, Mark 3, etc.
Characteristics of First Generation Computers
Some essential characteristics or features of the first generation computers
are as follows:
• Use of Vacuum Tubes Technology
• Based on Machine Language only
• Use of Punch Cards as an Input Device
• Use of Magnetic Tapes as Memory Device
• Use of Paper Tape as an Output Device (output were given in printouts
Advantages of First Generation Computers
Some of the advantages of the first generation of computers are listed below:
• The first generation computers used vacuum tubes as basic components,
the only electronic component available in that period.
• Vacuum tube technology made it possible for the advent of electronic
• The use of machine language made first-generation computers
relatively faster in the beginning.
• First-generation computers were faster and could complete
calculations in milliseconds.
Disadvantages of First Generation Computers
Some of the disadvantages of the first generation of computers are listed
• First-generation computers were large in size and therefore not
• The storage capacity of computers was very low due to the use of
• First-generation computers produced too much heat, which required a
large cooling system.
• The functioning of input and output devices was slow.
The first generation period began in 1946 and ended in 1959. Vacuum tube
technology was used in first-generation computers. First-generation computers
have both advantages and disadvantages. Although these computers were huge,
produced heat, required a cooling system, consumed a lot of electricity, they
helped start the era of computing technology.