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a small comparatively cheap digital computer


(computer science)
A relatively small general-purpose digital computer, intermediate in size between a microcomputer and a main frame.


A computer built between about 1963 and 1987, smaller and less powerful than a mainframe, typically about the size and shape of a wardrobe, mounted in a single tall rack.

Minicomputers were characterised by short word lengths of 8 to 32 bits, limited hardware and software facilities and small physical size. Their low cost made them suitable for a wide variety of applications such as industrial control, where a small, dedicated computer which is permanently assigned to one application, is needed. In recent years, improvements in device technology have resulted in minicomputers which are comparable in performance to large second generation computers and greatly exceed the performance of first generation computers.

The processor was typically built using low integration logic integrated circuits - TTL or maybe ECL, thus distinguishing it from a microcomputer which is built around a microprocessor - a processor on a single (or maybe a few) ICs.

DEC's PDP-1 was the first minicomputer and their PDP-11 was the most successful, closely followed (in both time and success) by the VAX (which DEC called a "super minicomputer").

Another early minicomputer was the LINC developed at MIT in 1963.

Other minicomputers were the AS/400, the PRIME series, the AP-3, Olivetti's Audit 7 and the Interdata 8/32.


(1) A computer with a small form factor. See mini PC.

(2) An earlier medium-scale, centralized computer that functioned as a multiuser system for up to several hundred users. The minicomputer industry was launched in 1959 after Digital Equipment Corporation introduced its PDP-1 for USD $120,000, an unheard-of low price for a computer in those days. Subsequently, a variety of minicomputer systems became available from HP, Data General, Wang, Tandem, Datapoint, Prime Computer, Varian Data and Scientific Data Systems. The single user mini evolved into a centralized system with dumb terminals for departmental use.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, most centralized minicomputers migrated from their dumb terminal architecture into servers for PC networks. The terms "midrange computer" and "server" replaced the venerable minicomputer designation.

High-end, single-user workstations, typically used for computer-aided design (CAD), were also called minicomputers. See midrange computer and mini PC.

Minicomputer System
The minicomputer was a centralized computer that served from a handful to several hundred "dumb" terminals.
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