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In the 1950s,two devices would be invented which would improve the computer field and cause the beginning of the computer revolution. The first of these two devices was the transistor. Invented in 1947 by William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain of Bell Labs, the transistor was fated to oust the days of vacuum tubes in computers, radios, and other electronics.

The vacuum tube, used up to this time in almost all the computers and calculating machines, had been invented by American physicist Lee De Forest in 1906. The vacuum tube worked by using large amounts of electricity to heat a filament inside the tube until it was cherry red. One result of heating this filament up was the release of electrons into the tube, which could be controlled by other elements within the tube. De Forest's original device was a triode, which could control the flow of electrons to a positively charged plate inside the tube. A zero could then be represented by the absence of an electron current to the plate; the presence of a small but detectable current to the plate represented a one.

Vacuum tubes were highly inefficient, required a great deal of space, and needed to be replaced often. Computers such as ENIAC had 18,000 tubes in them and housing all these tubes and cooling the rooms from the heat produced by 18,000 tubes was not cheap.. The transistor promised to solve all of these problems and it did so. Transistors, however, had their problems too. The main problem was that transistors, like other electronic components, needed to be soldered together. As a result, the more complex the circuits became, the more complicated and numerous the connections between the individual transistors and the likelihood of faulty wiring increased.

In 1958, this problem too was solved by Jack St. Clair Kilby of Texas Instruments. He manufactured the first integrated circuit or chip. A chip is really a collection of tiny transistors which are connected together when the transistor is manufactured. Thus, the need for soldering together large numbers of transistors was practically nullified; now only connections were needed to other electronic components. In addition to saving space, the speed of the machine was now increased since there was a diminished distance that the electrons had to follow.

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Computers: From the Past to the Present
Technology Advances: Last modified July 30, 2006
©1994-2006 by Michelle A. Hoyle