By Graham Wright (auth.)

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The stand-alone Word Processor was a microcomputer dedicated to this one activity, and its success was achieved primarily by making the hardware and software fit the application and suit the user - the very reverse of what the original mainframe computers often offered. The continued development of the microprocessor has led to more powerful models appearing on the market, primarily from three companies, Intel, Motorola and Zilog. These models are described by the size of the unit of data that can be carried through the processor; thus the first widely available micros were 8-bit micros; most commercial microcomputers are based on 16-bit microprocessors, and the latest 32-bit microprocessors are now being used to produce single- or multi-user microsystems that rival in power and performance the current competition from smaller mainframe computers and minicomputers.

2. That is: - read input data - update master file record - produce output. The role of the processor in data processing is thus a reduced but still central one, primarily devoted to: - the control of data input, storage and output devices; - the running of one or more computer programs, mostly of limited computational content and rather more heavily concerned with the handling of data in files; - the supervision of the entire operation. In this way the use of a computer in data processing is more akin to its use in automatic control (see next section).

So, while the growth elsewhere has been in very much smaller machines, scientists have required the development of supercomputers, some built on completely different designs from conventional computers in that they allow the execution of multiple instructions in parallel (rather than the serial processing of single instructions), through one of several alternative mechanisms. Current supercomputers, which have been ordered in surprisingly large numbers, can perform up to about 100 million instructions per second, properly programmed for the appropriate tasks.

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