personal computer (PC), small but powerful computer primarily used in an office or home without the need to be connected to a larger computer. PCs evolved after the development of the microprocessor 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 modem; multimedia computers add a sound-reproduction adapter, stereo speakers, and a compact disc (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 palmtops, 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 processor) used in workstations, the distinction between PCs and workstations has blurred. PCs equipped with networking and communications hardware are often used as computer terminals. See also network; personal digital assistant.
See K. A. Jamsa, Welcome to Personal Computers (3d ed. 1995); J. Preston and M. Hirschl, Personal Computing (1997).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.