2nd GENERATION COMPUTERS  Highlights ▷ 2020

Talking about computers means taking a tour of the last century. Although the first electromechanical computational machine was born in 1938, this time we want you to know more about what happened in later years, in what is known as the “Second Generation Computers“.

This period of our history lasts only six years but it shows us, without a doubt, significant advances for the sector, many of them essential for the later development of concepts and computing machines.

We are going to tell you what this era meant for history, by what elements it is characterized, how it developed and who were the main men and machines of the moment. See all generations of computers full.

What characteristics define the second generation of computers?

transistors characteristic second generation computers

With half as long as the first generation, it occupies only six years of our history, occurring from 1958 to 1964.

What characterizes it includes:

  • The first and foremost of its characteristics is the introduction of transistors, which were invented some years before, in the architecture of computers, being the substitutes for vacuum valves. A vacuum tube occupied the same as 200 transistors.
  • This aspect brings us to another of the significant aspects of computers of these years: their size. This substitution allowed to build considerably smaller machines.
  • They also produced less heat, so ventilation needs decreased.
  • This also has an impact on energy consumption, which becomes lower.
  • These use more advanced languages than the one known so far (machine language, which was binary). They are called “high level“And, indeed, we saw more than one in the different devices that went on the market.
  • Processors are designed much easier thanks to the microprogramming, a concept that was developed in 1959.
  • The magnetic core memories they are widely used, almost completely replacing rotating drums.
  • The set of previous characteristics and others such as their increasing reliability and power make them more commercial devices, closer to society.
  • It is marketed COBOL, the first high-level programming language that, despite being designed in the previous generation, does not hit the market until several years later.
  • The minicomputers.
  • More features are included, such as print capability.
  • Specific function programs become much more salable and with it, of course, also computers.
  • The use of these machines extends, including storage, inventory management, registration, accounting, payroll …

What was the evolution and history of the 2nd generation of computers?

FORTRAN high-level language

This is given from the year 1958The milestone that characterizes it and that starts this being the introduction of transistors to replace vacuum valves, something that we see in previous years but without patents.

We started with the development of two LARC supercomputers, whose use was exclusive to the atomic energy sector, one of them being installed in California and another being transferred to the US Navy, which designed the first flight simulator with it.

The computers that are happening considerably improve on the previous ones, one after the other, most of them being of great importance, each in one respect. Nobody makes a device equal to the competition.

FORTRAN appears hand in hand with IBM, considered as the first general-purpose high-level programming language, which was part of one of the leading machines of the generation, the IBM 1401.

It is interesting to know that it is at this point, in 1962, the first video game appeared known to the world, called Spacewar!

Spacewar first video game
Spacewar! First Video Game in history

This era ends with the launch of IMB 360, a series of computers with different characteristics that only shared software, being quite a bombshell for being useful to a wide audience and becoming, depending on the model, more accessible.

It’s fair to say IBM was the leading company, by a landslide, during these six years, still creating the group BUNCH, a group of corporations united to try to overshadow him (without success). The last years of this time witness what would be an attempt at a minicomputer, a computing device considerably smaller than what has been seen so far.

Best inventors of the second generation of computers

inventors second generation computers

Of course, achieving all of the above would not have been possible without a few brains that have undoubtedly gone down in history in their respective fields and in computing in general.

Gene Amdahl

We start with someone who does not stand out as an inventor but who still deserves recognition in this post because he was the chief architect of the first series of running machines of the same software but with different specifications and sizes, which stood out precisely for its variable but perfect design and architectures for each and every one of the machines.

This man, founder of four successful companies in the sector, was awarded in 1983 for his contributions in the design, manufacture and application of high-performance computers. In 1987 also receives the award Eckert-Mauchly of computational innovation. Two years later receives an award as entrepreneurial entrepreneur in the computing sector. All this means that, in the 1992, Magazine Computerworld consider it one of the 25 people who changed the world.

In addition to the above, it gives a name to a law (amdahl’s law) which is nothing more than a formula to corroborate that, from a point on, it did not make sense to include more processors to a parallel system.

J. Bardeen, W. Brattain and W. Shockley

Equally deserving are these three men, the first a physical-electrical engineer and the following physicists, they invented the transistor, which was announced already in 1948 but took four years to see the light. That is, they are the responsible for the second generation of computers.

This milestone and the excellent work they did in the study of semiconductors made all three received shortly after, in 1956, the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Maurice wilkes

To this computational researcher we owe him the microprogramming, a concept that was completed in 1951 but was not used operationally in a market computer, the EDSAC 2 until 1958.

Other ideas that were implemented very well and that further enhanced the recognition of this man were macros, symbolic tags for code, or function libraries, essential of any programming language.

The Royal Society decides to make him a member his in 1956. Upon returning to England in 1993, he was awarded the honors title of Doctor of Science. Appears on the Year Honors List for the year 2000.

What prominent computers appeared in the second generation of computers?

Of course, we have certain machines that were the complete protagonists of these years:

IBM 1401

IBM 1401

It was launched in 1959, being a machine transistor-based mainframe that worked with the well-known punch cards. It had a general purpose and its 12,000 units sold have made it a success, being considered, in fact, the most successful in the history of computing.

Its other aspect to highlight was the 4000 character magnetic core memory, extended, shortly after, to 16,000.

IBM 1620

IBM 1620

A mainframe from 1959, also based on transistors, of course, which had, in principle, with a single punched paper tape that was soon replaced by punched cards. It had a magnetic core memory of 60000 decimal digits.

Its use was scientific and, unlike all the previous ones designed with this objective, it was considered the first economic computer.



Programmed Data Processor-1 it is a machine that, on the contrary, comes from the hand of DEC. This was the first that was used in the laboratory by personnel of this and not by specialized computer technicians. Its aim was to aid in scientific research.

It was launched in 1960 and, in addition to that, it is a point in the history of computing for being the used to run what was the first video game as well as becoming a staple in the hacker culture of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He used the perforated paper tape to store information, being the inspiration for some text editing softwares.

360 series

IBM S / 360

This was a whole family of computers that they ran the same software but mounting different specifications for speed (from 0.034 MiPS to 1.7) and capacity (from 8 Kb to 8 MB) and, consequently, being of different price.

They appear in 1964, being a whole revolution, as they could reach an “enormous” number of users, also giving them different uses, both commercial and scientific.

Your design is important too, being the inspiration of future devices and considering, therefore, also as the starting point of what would be the next computational generation.

IBM Strench

IBM Strench

It’s about the first supercomputer built with this transistor system that characterizes the second generation of computers.

Appears in 1961 And despite not meeting expectations, it was the fastest for three years. Far from having the expected success, it showed a difference between the expected and the real performance that its price was divided in two to get it to sell.

Even so, it is considered one of the most important machines when generating various technologies that they were really successful, being used for many years, as modular transistor system logic, generalized interrupts, memory protection, multiprogramming, or instruction pipeline.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments, we will answer you as soon as possible, and it will surely be of great help to more members of the community. Thank you! 😉

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