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general-purpose computer

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

A general-purpose computer is one that, given the appropriate application and required time, should be able to perform most common computing tasks.  

Personal computers, including desktops, notebooks, smartphones and tablets, are all examples of general-purpose computers. The term is used to differentiate general-purpose computers from other types, in particular the specialized embedded computers used in intelligent systems.

ENIAC, designed and built in the 1940s, was the first general-purpose computer. ENIAC weighed 30 tons and covered an area of about 1,800 square feet. In contrast, a current smartphone weighs a few ounces and is small enough to slip into a pocket.

This was last updated in October 2013

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