Examining The Second Generation Of Computers Information Technology Essay

Computers are named so because they make mathematical computations at fast speeds. As a result, the history of computing goes back at least 3,000 years back (Spaulding, 2009). The purpose of this project is to study the evolution of computers with respect to the five generations of computers. Its concentration will be on the evolution of the second generation computers as one of the five generations of the computers. Internet sites, journal articles, dictionaries and published books will be used as a source of information related to the topic.

The main part of the project being the background study is divided into four subtopics which the researcher will discuss. The first subtopic is why second generation computers were created. Under this subtopic the researcher will talk about the second generation computer’s predecessors being the first generation computers. The researcher will look at the disadvantages that the first generation computers had which resulted in humans deciding on making a better model of computers than them being the second generation computers.

The second part of the background study body is the technology that the second generation computers used. Under this subtopic the researcher will show pictures of the technology that was used in this generation of computers and explain how it benefited both the user of the computers and the computers themselves,

The programming of second generation computers will then follow pursuit. Under this the language that was used to program those computers that were in the second generation will be discussed on closely.

Following thereafter will be the functionality of the second generation computers. Here such aspects as the measure used to record the processing speed of a computer will be discussed and in context with the second generation computers.

The last part the researcher will cover it’s the hardware and software components of the second generation computers. These two terms will be defined and more information on the two will be covered also.


Computers have been in and around our lives for as long as anyone can remember; they have also changed a lot as the years also passed by. Humans have categorized computers into five generations being the first, the second up to the fifth one respectively. This categorization has been based upon the advancements that have taken place in the computers themselves over a period of time.

The researcher in this project will aim at studying the evolution of the second generation computers. Before going further on; the researcher found it necessary to first explain what second generation computers is. Birbal (2000, p.13) stated that, “second generation computers are those computers that used transistors.” This was advancement from vacuum tubes to these transistors as it was seen that this vacuum tubes used a lot of electricity and furthermore produced a lot of heat (Birbal, 2000). From these disadvantages of the first generation computers and many more it was found relevant to create the second generation computers which the researcher in this project will say more on and also elaborate further on.

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The researcher in this project will cover certain aspects such as how it came about for second generation computers to be created, the technology used in them, programming in this computers, their processing speed and their hardware and software components. All these aspects will be pointed out and explained further throughout this project.


The objectives or aims of this project are to:

Explain how second generations computers came about

Illustrate the technology used in the second generation computers

Discuss programming in second generations computers

Outline the functionality of the second generation computers

Elaborate on the components of the second generation computers


5.1. How Second Generations Computers Came About

The first generation computers known as the first computers to use electronic valves (i.e. vacuum tubes) started in 1945-1956. The use of these valves made the computers very large as they contained miles of electrical wire (see appendix 1). As a result of this many wires the computers used too much electrical power and also generating a lot of heat. The too much heat that was produced lead to the valves easily blowing thus making processing unreliable. The first generation computers each had a different binary coded program called machine language which told them how to operate. This different languages made the computer difficult to program and furthermore limited its versatility and speed (Birbal, 2000). Furthermore, because binary code was a series of ones and zeros this created confusion and unease especially to programmers as it was difficult to remember and use the machine code in programming these computers. (Doyle S, 2001, p. 39).

In 1948 transistors (see appendix 2) were made and from their creation they replaced the vacuum tubes in the first generation computers. The transistor was more advanced than the vacuum tubes as a result it allowed for second generation computers to be smaller, faster, cheaper, more energy efficient and more reliable than the first generation computers. (Birbal, 2000)

5.2. Technology Used In the Second Generation Computers

Bellis, M (2010) in her website states that the name transistor comes from the ‘trans’ of transmitter and ‘sistor’ of resistor, and then she attaches a meaning to the whole term transistor itself as a device composed of semi-conductor material that can both conduct and insulate (e.g. germanium and silicon). She furthermore states that transistors were the first devices designed to act as both a transmitter, converting sound waves into electronic waves, and resistor, controlling electronic current. Bellis, M (2010) concludes that before transistors, digital circuits were composed of vacuum tubes.

Transistors had a huge impact on computer design. The transistors made of semiconductors replaced vacuum tubes in computers. By replacing these huge and unreliable vacuum tubes with transistors, computers could now perform the same functions, using less power and occupying less space. (Bellis, M., 2010)

5.3. Programming in Second Generations Computers (Programming language)

Before moving further to the programming language used in the second generation computers it is very essential that first it is understood what a program and a programming language is. Gaddis, T (2010, p. 30) in his book; starting out with java, defines a program as a set of instructions a computer follows in order to perform a task. He furthermore continues to define a programming language as a special language used to write computer programs.

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The second generation computers were programmed using assembly language. An assembly language is a language that uses simple instructions such as ADD, SUB and LDA (Doyle, S., 2001, p. 39-40). Assembly language was used in second generation computers in preference to machine code in first generation computers as it was easier for the programmers to use it and also to debug.

Although the programs were written using assembly language which was much easier for people to understand and were also user friendly, computers could not understand this language as they only understood ones and zeros; therefore assemblers were used. Doyle, S (2001, p.40) states that an assembler is a software that translates assembly language understood by the programmer only to machine code which can be understood by the computer. Therefore these assemblers made it possible for computers to understand and be able to perform the requested tasks.

Second generation computers also used the first versions of some high level languages namely COBOL and FORTRAN. High level language by Doyle, S (2001, p. 367) is a programming language where each instruction corresponds to several machine code instructions. COBOL language stands for Common Business-Oriented Language and was used mainly for business data processing because of its excellent file handling while FORTRAN which stands for Formula Translator was used mainly for programming complex mathematical algorithms.

5.4. The Functionality of the Second Generation Computers

The main point above all under this subtopic will be the way in which second generation computers functioned i.e. what they used in order for them to be better than the first computers. In his website Tolman, E (2002) states that these computers used processors at their time which to know how much the computer could function, one had to calculate or know its speed.

Speed of a computer is measured by the speed of its processor in MHz which stands for mega-hertz. This simply means million of cycles per second (Tolman, E., 2002). In his website Tolman, E (2002) continues to state that the million of cycles per second actually tells one the speed of a clock driving the computer’s processor. As this might create confusion on the understanding of a computer’s speed or on the understanding of MHz the researcher decided on quoting Tolman, E (2002) as he explains his concept by stating that;

“Computers are driven by a timing clock also known as a crystal. This timing clock or crystal changes at an exact frequency and has high and low voltage changes. Each time the clock changes, the computer’s processor processes some part of an instruction.”

So, Tolman, E (2002) simply in his concept is explaining that a computer that has a 500MHz clock is doing something 500 million times per second. A 1GHz computer does something 1 billion times per second.

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Second generation computers were made to process information faster than the first computers. The first generation computers had a speed of 5mbps while the second generation computers had a speed of 10mbps (Oderog, A., 2010). From this it can be observed that second generation computers were twice as fast as the first generation computers with respect to processing of information and also carrying out of operations.

5.5. Components of Second Generation Computers (Software & Hardware)

The point above is the understanding of the meanings of the two terms hardware and software. Hardware components by Doyle, S (2001, p.7) in his book Information Systems for you 3rd edition is the term used for the parts of the computer that one can touch and handle, furthermore he continues to add on that also is all the devices that make up a computer system. The definition of hardware by a different author Birbal, R (2000, p.4) is also similar to the first definition, the author states that it is all the parts of a computer that one can see and touch also referred to as peripherals.

Software’s definition quoted from information systems for you 3rd edition by Doyle, S (2001, p.7) is the word used for the actual programs that allow the hardware to do a useful job. Adding on he states that this software is made up of instructions that tell the computer what to do.

Now that it is understood what software and hardware are, the researcher will move to elaborating further on these two components in the second generation computers. Second generation computers had almost all the parts associated with today’s computers (see appendix 3). With hardware components they had storage discs like current computers having hard discs, flash drives and other storage mediums. Under the backup section second generation computers used tape storage while current computers use CDs, DVDs etc. As for software: second generation computers also had operating systems and other stored programs like current computers which use operating systems such as windows, Linux, MAC etc so similarly all in all the second generation computers components were not that different from current computer components. (Maynes, B., 2010)

7. Conclusion

This research project has identified the second generation computers out of the five generations of computers. Some of these types of computers were primarily used by universities and government organisations. With their technology of transistors used in them it meant that improvement also was increased. These computers were much faster, cheaper, efficient and stored more data than their predecessors.

Second generation computers have proved to be better in usage and data handling. With their tape storages they allowed for data to be backed up thus allowing for future reference. Their storage drives allowed for storing of information for permanent reasons or temporary reasons. All in all they were good for home usage and also industrial usage.

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