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Generations of computers: what they are, characteristics and examples

There are five generations of computers, classified according to their components or technology used: vacuum tubes, transistors, integrated circuits, microprocessors and artificial intelligence.

A generation of computers is a period in which a group of devices with similar technology, characteristics and capabilities are released on the market, even if they are from different manufacturers. When a device is created that surpasses the rest because of its components or technology, then a new generation begins.

For example, when the first computers with microprocessors appeared, which are the ones we use today, they displaced those that were composed of integrated circuits and were much larger, heavier and slower. This change meant the arrival of a new generation of computers.



main technology

Programming language Characteristics examples
First generation 1940-1956 Vacuum tubes machine language
  • large size
  • High energy consumption
  • Data entry with punched cards.

second generation


transistors assembly language
  • Data entry with punched cards.


Third generation


Integrated circuits

  • pascal
  • c
  • Basic
  • Incorporation of operating systems.
  • Data entry by peripheral devices.


Fourth generation


  • JavaScript
  • Python
  • Java
  • c#
  • Kotlin
  • laptops
  • RAM and ROM memory.
  • Data entry by peripheral devices.

fifth generation


  • artificial intelligence
  • Quantum computing.
  • nanotechnology
  • High level language
  • natural language
  • laptops
  • lightweight
  • Greater speed
  • Greater memory
  • Natural language recognition.
  • Facial and voice recognition.
  • laptops
  • Smartphones
  • Quantum computers

First generation: vacuum tubes

man manipulates old computer
Computer of the Glenn Research Center, belonging to NASA, 1949

Between 1940 and 1956, the first computers appeared that gave rise to the devices we know today. At that time, they were devices made up of large vacuum tubes that occupied entire rooms.

A vacuum tube is an electronic component in the form of a bulb, which is responsible for amplifying or modifying an electrical signal. This device was key to the development of telecommunications and computing and in fact continues to be used today in devices such as the microwave oven or radio frequency transmitters.

First generation computers could only do one operation at a time and consumed a lot of electricity. They were programmed in machine language, which is a low-level programming language, and data input and output was done using punched cards.

An example of first generation computers is the Univac, developed for the United States Census Bureau in 1951.

See also Types of computers

Second generation: transistors

Computer in NASA's Wind Tunnel Control Center, 1956
NASA Wind Tunnel Control Center Computer, 1956

From 1956 to 1963, the second generation of computers that arrived with the invention of transistors remained in force. This represented the replacement of vacuum tubes and a major advance in the world of computing. A transistor is a device that serves as a regulator of electric current, which allowed the creation of more energy-efficient computers.

The second generation computers were not only differentiated by their technology and smaller size, but by the change in the programming language, which went to assembly language. This language is basic and not portable, that is to say, it could not be used on another computer, but it consumes less resources than its predecessor.

These computers still used punched cards to enter data.

An example of a second generation computer it is the PDP-1, a device developed in 1960 for scientific research purposes and on which the first video game in history, Spacewar, was played.

Third generation: integrated circuits

old computer
Integrated circuit computer

From 1964 until 1971 the market was dominated by the third generation of computers, characterized by the incorporation of integrated circuits that replaced transistors. An integrated circuit is a chip made of silicon that has different components that form a kind of miniature circuit.

In this type of computer, input and output data were managed through peripheral devices such as the monitor, keyboard or printer. In addition, the use of operating systems, which are a type of software that allows the execution of multiple instructions simultaneously, became widespread.

From this generation, high-level programming languages ​​such as COBOL, FORTAN, Pascal, etc. began to be used en masse. These types of languages ​​are distinguished from low-level languages ​​in that they are much closer to natural language (used by humans) than to machine language (binary code). In addition, they are portable, so they can be used on other devices.

An example of third generation computers it was the UNIVAC 1108, an update of the first generation UNIVAC created in the 1950s.

See also Software types

Fourth generation: microprocessors

apple macintosh
Apple Macintosh, 1984

From 1971 computers stopped working with integrated circuits and began to incorporate microprocessors. A microprocessor is an integrated circuit but much more complex, capable of managing all the functions of a computer. That is why it is also known as the Central Processing Unit or CPU.

The fourth generation of computers was characterized by including two types of memory:

  • RAM memory: stores program data temporarily, while the computer is on.
  • ROM memory: stores program data permanently.

These types of computers use high-level programming languages, such as JavaScript, Python or Java. The input and output of the data is done through peripheral devices such as the keyboard, scanner, monitor, cd’s, etc. In addition, their size and the decrease in production costs meant that this type of computer was sold en masse.

An example of fourth generation computers it would be the Apple Macintosh and PCs.

See also Hardware and software

Fifth generation: artificial intelligence, quantum computing and nanotechnology


The fifth generation of computers is made up of all the devices already created or in the process of creation that incorporate technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing or nanotechnology.

Artificial intelligence would allow computers to recognize and learn human language autonomously, without user intervention. The incorporation of quantum technology would allow computers to work with enormous amounts of data that are not yet possible to process. While nanotechnology favors the creation of ever smaller components with more storage capacity.

The fifth generation of computers is portable and is characterized by the fact that the input and output of data can be done not only from the hardware, but also from voice or facial recognition.

Between 1980 and 1990, the Japanese government tried to develop its own “fifth generation of computers”, based on artificial intelligence. However, the project failed.

An example of fifth generation computers they are smartphones, which have more storage capacity and speed than a fourth generation computer. In addition, they are small in size, have an internet connection and recognize natural language and facial expressions.

See also:

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