Today, we often take for granted the impressive array of computing machinery that surrounds us
and helps us manage our daily lives. Because you are studying computer architecture and digital
hardware, you no doubt have a good understanding of these machines, and you’ve probably written
countless programs on your PCs and workstations. However, it is very easy to become jaded
and forget the evolution of the technology that has led us to the point where every Nintendo Game
Boy® has 100 times the computing power of the computer systems on the first Mercury space missions.
Computing machines have been around for a long time, hundreds of years. The Chinese abacus, the
calculators with gears and wheels and the first analog computers are all examples of computing machinery;
in some cases quite complex, that predates the introduction of digital computing systems.
The computing machines that we’re interested in came about in the 1940s because World War II
artillery needed a more accurate way to calculate the trajectories of the shells fired from battleships.
Today, the primary reason that computers have become so pervasive is the advances made in
integrated circuit manufacturing technology. What was once primarily orange groves in California,
north of San Jose and south of Palo Alto, is today the region known as Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley
is the home to many of the companies that are the locomotives of this technology. Intel, AMD,
Cypress, Cirrus Logic and so on are household names (if you live in a geek-speak household)
anywhere in the world.