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Second Generation Computers: Transistors (1956-1963)

Second Generation Computers: Transistors (1956-1963)

Solid-State components (transistors and diodes) and magnetic core storage formed the basis for the second generation of computers. Transistor is a device composed of semiconductor material that amplifies a signal or opens or closes a circuit. Invented in Bell Labs, transistors have become the key ingredient of all digital circuits, including computers. Transistor replaced the bulky electric tubes in the first generation computer. Transistors perform the same functions as a vacuum tube, except that electrons move through solid materials instead of through a vacuum. Transistors were made of a semiconducting material and controlled the flow of electricity through the circuit. They also allowed computers to become smaller and more powerful and faster at the same time. They are also less expensive, required less electricity and emitted less heat than vacuum tubes. Manufacturing cost was also very low.

It is in the second generation that the concept of Central Processing Unit (CPU), memory, programming language and input and output units were developed. Second-generation computers moved from cryptic binary machine language to symbolic, or assembly, languages, which allowed programmers to specify instructions in words. These were also the first computers that stored their instructions in their memory, which moved from a magnetic drum to magnetic core technology. During the second generation many high level programming languages were introduced, including FORTRAN (1956), ALGOL (1958) and COBOL (1959).

Examples: PDP-8, IBM1400 series, IBM 1620, IBM 7090, CDC 3600

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