personal computer

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Financial, Acronyms, Wikipedia.

personal computer

(PC), small but powerful computercomputer,
device capable of performing a series of arithmetic or logical operations. A computer is distinguished from a calculating machine, such as an electronic calculator, by being able to store a computer program (so that it can repeat its operations and make logical
..... Click the link for more information.
 primarily used in an office or home without the need to be connected to a larger computer. PCs evolved after the development of the microprocessormicroprocessor,
integrated circuit containing the arithmetic, logic, and control circuitry required to interpret and execute instructions from a computer program. When combined with other integrated circuits that provide storage for data and programs, often on a single
..... Click the link for more information.
 made possible the hobby-computer movement of the late 1970s, when some computers were built from components or kits. In the early 1980s the first low-cost, fully assembled units were mass-marketed. The typical configuration consists of a video display, keyboard, mouse, logic unit and memory, storage device and, often, a modemmodem
[modulator/demodulator], an external device or internal electronic circuitry used to transmit and receive digital data over a communications line normally used for analog signals.
..... Click the link for more information.
; multimediamultimedia,
in personal computing, software and applications that combine text, high-quality sound, two- and three-dimensional graphics, animation, photo images, and full-motion video.
..... Click the link for more information.
 computers add a sound-reproduction adapter, stereo speakers, and a compact disccompact disc
(CD), a small plastic disc used for the storage of digital data. As originally developed for audio systems, the sound signal is sampled at a rate of 44,100 times a second, then each sample is measured and digitally encoded on the 4 3-4 in (12 cm) disc as a series of
..... Click the link for more information.
 (CD-ROM) drive to this configuration so that material can be presented in a combination of animation, graphics, sound, text, and video. Decreases in component size have made it possible to build portable PCs, or laptops, the size of a ream of paper and smaller, and palmtopspalmtop
or hand-held personal computer,
lightweight, small, battery-powered, general-purpose programmable computer. It typically had a miniaturized full-function, typewriterlike keyboard for input and a small, full color, liquid-crystal display for output.
..... Click the link for more information.
, which can be held in one hand. Most current PCs have more computing power, memory, and storage than the large mainframe computers of the 1950s and early 60s. As the speed and power of the complex instruction set computer (CISC) processors used to power PCs have reached levels previously reserved for the reduced instruction set processors (see RISC processorRISC processor
[Reduced Instruction Set Computer], computer arithmetic-logic unit that uses a minimal instruction set, emphasizing the instructions used most often and optimizing them for the fastest possible execution.
..... Click the link for more information.
) used in workstations, the distinction between PCs and workstations has blurred. PCs equipped with networking and communications hardware are often used as computer terminalscomputer terminal,
a device that enables a computer to receive or deliver data. Computer terminals vary greatly depending on the format of the data they handle. For example, a simple early terminal comprised a typewriter keyboard for input and a typewriter printing element for
..... Click the link for more information.
. See also networknetwork,
in computing, two or more computers connected for the purpose of routing, managing, and storing rapidly changing data. A local area network (LAN), which is restricted by distances of up to one mile, and a metropolitan area network (MAN), which is restricted to distances
..... Click the link for more information.
; personal digital assistantpersonal digital assistant
(PDA), lightweight, hand-held computer designed for use as a personal organizer with communications capabilities; also called a handheld. A typical PDA has no keyboard, relying instead on special hardware and pen-based computer software to enable the
..... Click the link for more information.


See K. A. Jamsa, Welcome to Personal Computers (3d ed. 1995); J. Preston and M. Hirschl, Personal Computing (1997).

personal computer

[′pər·sən·əl kəm′pyüd·ər]
(computer science)
A computer for home or personal use.

personal computer

a small inexpensive computer used in word processing, playing computer games, etc.

personal computer

(PC) A general-purpose single-user microcomputer designed to be operated by one person at a time.

This term and the concept has been successfully hijacked by IBM due to the huge market share of the IBM PC, despite its many obvious weaknesses when compared to other equally valid claimants to the term, e.g. the Acorn Archimedes, Amiga, Atari, Macintosh.

personal computer

A single user computer. The term was very popular in the 1980s when individuals began to purchase their own computers for the first time in history. "Microcomputer" was another widely used term. Today, the terms PC, desktop, laptop and just plain "computer" are synonymous with personal computer. See how to select a computer.

Personal Computer Timeline

The industry began in 1977, when Apple, Radio Shack and Commodore introduced the first off-the-shelf computers as consumer products. The first machines used an 8-bit microprocessor with a maximum of 64K of memory and floppy disks for storage. The Apple II, Atari 500, and Commodore 64 became popular home computers, and Apple was successful in companies after the VisiCalc spreadsheet was introduced. However, the business world was soon dominated by the Z80 processor and CP/M operating system, used by many vendors in the early 1980s, such as Vector Graphic, NorthStar, Osborne and Kaypro. By 1983, hard disks began to show up, but CP/M was soon to be history.

Goodbye CP/M, Hello DOS
In 1981, IBM introduced the PC, an Intel 8088-based machine, slightly faster than the genre, but with 10 times the memory. It was floppy-based, and its PC-DOS operating system from Microsoft was also available for the clone makers as MS-DOS. The 8088 was cleverly chosen so that CP/M software vendors could easily convert their software.

Early 1980s - dBASE, Lotus and the Clones
dBASE II was introduced in 1981 bringing mainframe database functions to the personal computer level and launching an industry of compatible products and add-ons. Lotus 1-2-3 was introduced in 1982, and its refined interface and combined graphics spurred sales of IBM PCs.

The IBM PC was successfully cloned by Compaq and unsuccessfully by others. However, by the time IBM announced the PC AT in 1984, vendors were effectively cloning the PC and, as a group, eventually grabbed the majority of the PC market.

Mid-1980s - Apple's Lisa and Mac
In 1983, Apple introduced the Lisa, a graphics-based machine that simulated the user's desktop. Although ahead of its time, Lisa was abandoned for the Macintosh in 1984. The graphics-based desktop environment caught on with the Mac, especially in desktop publishing, and the graphical interface (GUI) worked its way to the PC world with Microsoft Windows as well as Ventura Publisher, which ran under a runtime version of the GEM interface.

Late 1980s - The Mac Gained Ground
In 1986, the Compaq 386 ushered in the first Intel 386-based machine. In 1987, IBM introduced the PS/2, its next generation personal computer, which added improved graphics, 3.5" floppy disks and an incompatible peripheral bus to fend off the cloners. In the same year, OS/2, jointly developed by IBM and Microsoft, was introduced, and more powerful Macintoshes, such as the Mac SE and Mac II, opened new doors for Apple. In 1989, the PC makers introduced 486-based computers, and Apple came out with faster Macs.

The 1990s - The Winner Is Windows
In 1990, Microsoft introduced Windows 3.0, which became a huge success within a couple of years. Software vendors developed Windows versions of almost everything. In 1991, Microsoft and IBM decided to go it alone, each working on their own version of the next operating system (IBM's OS/2 and Microsoft's Windows NT). NT gained significant market share, but OS/2 never caught on.

Lower Prices, Faster PCs and Laptops
In the early 1990s, Gateway and other mail-order vendors began to slash hardware prices. All the others followed, and the PC price wars began.

In 1993, Intel introduced its Pentium CPU to provide more speed for graphical interfaces. The once text-based PC became a graphics workstation competing with machines that cost 100 times as much only a few years before. Within a couple of years, the home market would explode with low-cost, high-performance PCs.

Inspired by Radio Shack's Model 100 introduced over a decade before and ignited by companies such as Toshiba and Zenith, the laptop market had explosive growth throughout the 1990s. More circuits were stuffed into less space, providing computing power on the go that few would have imagined back in 1977.

The End of the 1990s - Dot-Com Fever
In 1995, the personal computer became a window into the Internet for global e-mail and access to the fastest growing information bank the world ever witnessed. Although graphical Web browsers such as Mosaic and Netscape were the catalyst, had the personal computer not been in place, the Web in all of its glory would have never exploded onto the scene.

The 21st Century - The Smartphone
The 21st century was the dawning of the mobile computing world. Although desktop computers continue to sell and laptops of all sizes are flourishing, handheld smartphones that can run any kind of application are quickly becoming the most personal of personal computing devices (see smartphone).


When personal computers were introduced in the late 1970s, they were bought to solve individual problems, such as automating a budget or typing a letter. Within a few years, a huge industry sprang up to support them, and the personal computer became an integral part of every office. Networked with the organization's mainframes and departmental computers, it became part of the technology infrastructure of every company. Eventually, the personal computer became an indispensable appliance in nearly every home in the developed world.

The First Personal Computer
In the mid-1970s, Xerox developed the Alto, which was the forerunner of its Star workstation and inspiration for Apple's Lisa and Macintosh. (Image courtesy of Xerox Corporation.)

New Words for the Computer Generation
Personal computers exploded in the early 1980s; witness this photo taken in 1982. Only a few years after the Alto was developed, kids were coloring in "The Computer Coloring Book," created by the author of this encyclopedia.
References in periodicals archive ?
If they use personal computers for client machines, they are only window dressing for emulating dumb terminals.
The personal computer has many fans among the 200 million or so people worldwide who use one.
1991 - Apple and IBM announce an alliance to develop new personal computer microprocessors and software.
We hope that our joint work underscores that the developers and publishers of personal computer software compete in an industry very different from that of the manufacturers of video games," said Traphagen.
The strong sales of personal computers last year were fueled by the switch to machines using Intel's Pentium microchip and the introduction of Microsoft's Windows 95 operating system in August.
Soundcast Systems, a leading provider of revolutionary wireless audio transmission systems, today released two breakthrough products - iCast(TM) and AudioCast(TM) - designed to offer the highest-quality wireless transmission from digital music players or personal computers to home stereo systems.
Corsair has formed supplier agreements with ISSI and Winbond, two of the largest suppliers of SRAMs to the personal computer industry.
PC Laptops focuses on delivering a high level of local, personal service to differentiate itself in a crowded personal computer market.
Under terms of its "Totally Awesome Customer Support Program," PC Laptops will deliver "no questions asked" free lifetime labor and support on any Totally Awesome-brand personal computer.
For Personal Computer Audio Components VALLEY FORGE, Pa.
E[acute accent]Sorenson Communications(TM) today announced the immediate availability of Sorenson IP Relay(TM) (siprelay), a free service that enables deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to place text-to-speech relay calls through either a mobile device or personal computer connecting them with any hearing telephone user in the United States and its territories.
NASDAQ: AAPL) today announced the Newton Connection Kit, which enables intelligent transfer, synchronization, back up and updating of information between a Newton device and a PC or a Macintosh personal computer.

Full browser ?