Classes of computers

Classes of computers

Computers can be classified, or typed, many ways. Some common classifications are summarized below. For others see Category:Classes of computers.


Classes by Size

Microcomputers (Personal computers)

Microcomputers are the most common type of computers used by people today, whether in a workplace, at school or on the desk at home. The term “microcomputer” was introduced with the advent of single chip microprocessors. The term “microcomputer” itself is now practically an anachronism.

These computers include:

  • Desktop computers – A case and a display, put under and on a desk.
  • In-car computers (“carputers”) – Built into a car, for entertainment, navigation, etc.
  • Game consoles – Fixed computers specialized for entertainment purposes (computer games).

A separate class is that of mobile devices:

  • Laptops, notebook computers and Palmtop computers – Portable and all in one case. Varying sizes, but other than smartbooks expected to be “full” computers without limitations.
  • Tablet PC – Like laptops, but with a touch-screen, sometimes entirely replacing the physical keyboard.
  • Smartphones, smartbooks and PDAs (personal digital assistants) – Small handheld computers with limited hardware.
  • Programmable calculator– Like small handhelds, but specialised on mathematical work.
  • Handheld game consoles – The same as game consoles, but small and portable.

Minicomputers (Midrange computers)

A minicomputer (colloquially, mini) is a class of multi-user computers that lies in the middle range of the computing spectrum, in between the smallest multi-user systems (mainframe computers) and the largest single-user systems (microcomputers or personal computers). The contemporary term for this class of system is midrange computer, such as the higher-end SPARC, POWER and Itanium -based systems from Sun Microsystems, IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

Mainframe computers

The term mainframe computer was created to distinguish the traditional, large, institutional computer intended to service multiple users from the smaller, single user machines. These computers are capable of handling and processing very large amounts of data quickly. Mainframe computers are used in large institutions such as government, banks and large corporations. its measured in MIPS (Million instructions per second) and reponds up to 100's of million users at one time.


A supercomputer is focused on performing tasks involving intense numerical calculations such as weather forecasting, fluid dynamics, nuclear simulations, theoretical astrophysics, and complex scientific computations. A supercomputer is a computer that is at the frontline of current processing capacity, particularly speed of calculation. The term supercomputer itself is rather fluid, and the speed of today's supercomputers tends to become typical of tomorrow's ordinary computer. Supercomputer processing speeds are measured in floating point operations per second or FLOPS. An example of a floating point operation is the calculation of mathematical equations in real numbers. In terms of computational capability, memory size and speed, I/O technology, and topological issues such as bandwidth and latency, supercomputers are the most powerful, are very expensive, and not cost-effective just to perform batch or transaction processing. Transaction processing is handled by less powerful computers such as server computers or mainframes.

Classes by function


Server usually refers to a computer that is dedicated to providing a service. For example, a computer dedicated to a database may be called a "database server". "File servers" manage a large collection of computer files. "Web servers" process web pages and web applications. Many smaller servers are actually personal computers that have been dedicated to providing services for other computers.


Workstations are computers that are intended to serve one user and may contain special hardware enhancements not found on a personal computer.

Information appliances

Information appliances are computers specially designed to perform a specific user-friendly function —such as playing music, photography, or editing text. The term is most commonly applied to mobile devices, though there are also portable and desktop devices of this class.

Embedded computers

Embedded computers are computers that are a part of a machine or device. Embedded computers generally execute a program that is stored in non-volatile memory and is only intended to operate a specific machine or device. Embedded computers are very common. Embedded computers are typically required to operate continuously without being reset or rebooted, and once employed in their task the software usually cannot be modified. An automobile may contain a number of embedded computers; however, a washing machine and a DVD player would contain only one. The central processing units (CPUs) used in embedded computers are often sufficient only for the computational requirements of the specific application and may be slower and cheaper than CPUs found in a personal computer.

See also


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