Computer Platforms: Definition, Types & Examples

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  • 0:01 Computer Platform Defined
  • 1:11 Sizes & Types
  • 3:10 Cloud-Based Platforms
  • 3:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
David Whitsett

David has taught computer applications, computer fundamentals, computer networking, and marketing at the college level. He has a MBA in marketing.

Expert Contributor
Christianlly Cena

Christianlly has taught college physics and facilitated laboratory courses. He has a master's degree in Physics and is pursuing his doctorate study.

This lesson will explain what a computer platform is, describe the different sizes and types, and discuss the uses for the different types - one size definitely does not fit all! We will also touch on cloud-based computing platforms.

Computer Platform Defined

A computer platform is a system that consists of a hardware device and an operating system that an application, program or process runs upon. An example of a computer platform is a desktop computer with Microsoft Windows installed on it. A desktop is a hardware device and Windows is an operating system.

The operating system acts as an interface between the computer and the user and also between the computer and the application. So in order to have a functional device, you need hardware and an operating system together to make a usable computer platform for a program to run on.

The hardware portion of a computer platform consists of a processor, memory, and storage. The processor is a bit like your brain and memory is like a scratchpad for your brain to use while you're working out a problem.

It used to be that people referred to different computer platforms by their physical size, from smallest to largest - microcomputers (smallest), minicomputers (mid-size), and mainframes (largest). The term microcomputer has fallen somewhat out of favor - now most people just refer to these machines as computers or personal computers.

A mainframe can be housed in several cabinets.
IBM Mainframe Computer

Sizes and Types of Computer Platforms

Let's start with the personal computer - microcomputer if you're 'old school.' These can be as small as your handheld - a tablet or even a smartphone. Your handheld qualifies because it has a processor, memory, storage and an operating system (i.e. Android, iOS, Windows, etc.). Laptop and desktop PCs would also be included in this category. In terms of relative computing power, today's low-end laptops are more powerful than 80s mainframes - we've come a long way in a short period of time!

Next up is the minicomputer - somewhere between the personal computer and mainframe in size and power. Minicomputers are designed to handle large numbers of users and complex computational tasks. For example, a small-to-mid-sized business could use a minicomputer to run their computerized accounting system. Sun Microsystems was one of the first large-scale providers of minicomputers as was IBM with their AS/400 models. Today, companies achieve minicomputer or even mainframe computing power through running personal computers in parallel. Think of a large herd of horses pulling together in one big harness - massive power!

Finally, there is the mainframe computer, or 'big iron' as they are sometimes called. These machines are typically used by large businesses, government agencies, research institutions, etc., where great power and massive storage are required. They are suited to handling complicated, processor-intensive tasks, like managing census data, developing weather forecasting models, and calculating statistical data on an immense scale. Mainframes are often housed in specially built computer rooms with raised flooring (so cables can run underneath), heavy-duty cooling systems (they generate a lot of heat) and heavy-duty electrical systems (for uninterrupted power), and heightened security (to protect the data they hold).

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Additional Activities

Computer Platforms Writing Prompts

Prompt 1

Consider how you use the fruits of technology, such as computers, in your everyday life. What would jobs be like without computers? Do you think it is necessary to teach people to be computer literate? Why or why not?

Prompt 2

The past decades saw industrialization opening up the doors of modernization and automation in manufacturing. This has caused a huge number of people to lose their jobs because computers are now used to operate key devices and machines that were once controlled manually. What are the possible outcomes (good or bad) of having computers do tasks instead of people?

Prompt 3

Supercomputers have emerged since the 1960s and have been used for tasks requiring calculations that exceed the human mind. Compare a supercomputer with personal, mini, and mainframe computers in terms of cost, efficiency and computational speed.

Prompt 4

Some people believe that the value of computers in the classroom is overrated and that it may actually interfere with the child's learning process. Others think that computers are a good tool in facilitating learning and development in a child. In your opinion, how important are computers in the classroom?

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