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5.3.1 - Microprocessor / Mainframe technology

Revision point:
  • Candidates are expected to be able to:
    • identify the fundamental differences between microprocessor technology and mainframe technology;
    • describe a range of applications at home and in everyday life where microprocessor technology is used;
    • describe a range of applications in the workplace where either microprocessor technology is used or where mainframe technology is used.

Microprocessor technology:

A microprocessor is a programmable digital electronic component that has all the functions of a Central Processing Unit (CPU) on a single integrated circuit (IC).

Microprocessors are found in a huge range of modern devices.

Applications of Microprocessor Technology in the home and everyday life:

  1. A microprocessor controlled microwave ovenEmbedded computers - A vast number of modern devices in the home are microprocessor controlled. Examples include: washing machines; camera; calculators; hi-fi systems; telephones; microwave ovens; burglar alarms etc. etc.
    • The inputs are usually sensors, buttons or simple numeric keyboards.
    • The outputs include simple LCD screens displays, motors and relays, LEDs, lights, buzzers etc.

Applications of Microprocessor Technology in the workplace:

  1. Microprocessor controlled robots in manufacturingEmbedded computers - These are used extensively in the workplace, often to automate and monitor production in some way. Examples include: electronic tills, automatic car washes, security systems, FAX and telephone systems, automated production lines, automated warehousing, manufacturing robots etc. etc.
    • The inputs are usually sensors, buttons, touch screens or simple numeric keyboards.
    • The outputs include simple LCD screens displays, motors and relays, LEDs, lights, buzzers etc.
  2. Minicomputers - a multi-user computer capable of supporting from 10 to hundreds of users simultaneously. These are often known as servers and may be used by:

    • Smaller businesses to manage their data processing

    • Schools to store pupil and staff files and run the school management databases.

Applications of Microprocessor Technology in everyday life, home and the workplace:

  1. Microcomputers - these systems such as typically used by home, office and school users. They can be divided into different types:
    1. A typical desktop computerDesk top computers - these would typically be supplied with the computer itself (complete with hard disk drive and floppy disk drive) and peripherals such as a screen, a mouse, a keyboard and a CD or DVD drive.
      • Advantages: Relatively cheap and easy to add expansion cards to.
      • Disadvantages: Can take up a lot of space and are not easily moved.
    2. Notebooks (laptops)A typical laptop computer - these are small (typically 30cm x 20cm), light and easy to carry. The screen is on the inside top flap which hinges open to show the keyboard and mouse controls. They are designed to run on rechargeable batteries or the mains and can contain many of the features available on a desktop computer. Touch pads or a button are usually used to control the screen pointer.
      • Advantages: Portable due to their size and ability to run on batteries.
      • Disadvantages: Expensive for their processing power compared to desktop computers. You cannot use standard expansion cards. Keyboards and screens not as good for extended usage.
  2. Palmtop computer with keyboard and touch-sensitive screenPalm-tops & PDAs (personal digital assistants) - These are small hand-held computers. They are usually supplied with software such as a diary, a contacts database, and some form of word processor. Palmtop computer with touch-sensitive screenMany now have email facilities and even spreadsheets and databases. They either use a small keyboard or a touch-sensitive screen and handwriting recognition software. They can be linked to larger computers directly by cable or through a docking station or using an infra-red link.

    • Advantages: Very portable.

    • Disadvantages: Relatively expensive, limited expansion, non-keyboard versions can be slow to input data.

Mainframe technology:

A typical modern mainframe computerMainframe Computers - These use multiple microprocessors to run many programs at the same time.  A mainframe computer can be connected to hundreds, or even thousands, of users simultaneously. A mainframe can address thousands of gigabytes of RAM and connect to high-speed disk storage systems that can hold terabytes of data. Mainframe operating systems are so important to companies that they have to be incredibly reliable. To achieve this, a lot of the circuitry, operating software and storage systems are designed to detect and correct errors in the transmitted, processed and stored data.

Applications of mainframe computers in the workplace:

  • Mainframe computers are used mainly by large organizations for critical applications, typically bulk data-processing such as census, industry/consumer statistics, company management systems, and financial transaction processing.

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