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There are several types of computer systems, ranging from smartphones to supercomputers that fill buildings, and everything in between.

The most common type of computers are the microcomputers, built on microprocessors.

As the name suggests, microcomputers are relatively small and inexpensive, as compared to what came before. Commonly known as PCs, personal computers include desktops, with more power, large hard drives, more memory, and larger screens, as well as laptops and tablets for better portability, although some modern laptops are more powerful than many desktops.

In the traditional PC, the computer components are enclosed in a case that sits on the desk, and a keyboard, mouse, and monitor provide input and output. Desktop PCs come in varying sizes, some of them quite small, while most are large, with more computing power than the average laptop or tablet computer. Once the more common computer configuration, end-users today are gravitating toward smaller, more portable devices, although the PC continues to be the first choice for many users, particularly gamers, graphic designers, video editors, and professional users. Even in the office environment, there is a move toward cloud-based storage, accessed through laptops or tablets.

Towers are still popular among some users, such as gamers. Tower systems are the same as traditional desktop PCs, except that the computer case is vertical rather than horizontal, while some cases are designed for either option. Tower PCs often reside beneath or alongside the desk, although some users place them on the desktop.

All-in-one computers are pretty much the same as the traditional desktop, except that the computer is integrated into the back of the computer screen rather than enclosed within a separate case. Still available in this format, the Apple iMac was the first to use this configuration, although many PC manufactures have since followed suit. In this type of arrangement, the user simply needs to plug in a keyboard and mouse, hook it up to power, and they are ready to go. Some all-in-one systems have touchscreens built-in, allowing users to tap icons on the screen rather than using a mouse. For most systems, an optional trackpad may be used instead of a mouse, which is the arrangement that I use with my iMac.

Also known as notebooks, a laptop computer is similar to its desktop counterpart, except that the keyboard, trackpad, monitor, and all of the components are built-in. Although they come in various sizes, the smaller ones generally have less RAM, but that's not always the case. Laptops can run all of the software and applications that are available for the desktop, and there are versions for both the PC and the Mac. The Apple version is known as a MacBook. The chief advantage of a laptop over a desktop is portability. For occasions when more is needed, most laptops can be temporarily extended by plugging in a larger monitor.

Notebook computers are cut-down versions of laptops. They look like laptops except that they are smaller and have less RAM and less hard drive space. Screen sizes are usually around 10 inches. As they have limited power, some processor-intensive programs may not run on these machines. The MacBook Air is Apple's version of a notebook computer.

Chromebooks are laptops or tablet computers that use the Google Chrome operating system. Designed to be used online, Chromebooks have limited functionality without an Internet connection.

Tablet computers are compact devices designed with touchscreens, although many of them can be temporarily extended by plugging in a keyboard and mouse. Although some tablets can run Windows 10, others use various mobile operating systems, such as the Apple iPad's iOS.

Hybrids are also available, as a cross between laptops and tablet computers. They tend to be less powerful than laptops but are smaller, lighter, and even more portable.

Mainframe computers operate at very high speeds and are designed to support many peripheral devices. They are large, often occupying an entire room. Mainframes can have thousands of workstations or terminals logged in at the same time.

A supercomputer is one with a high level of performance, as compared to a general-purpose computer. They play a role in the computer science fields, and are used for a large variety of processor-intensive tasks, where large amounts of data needs to be processed and calculated very quickly.

An embedded system is a small computer designed for a specific purpose, and embedded into the device it controls. Embedded systems power devices such as smartphones, digital cameras, automobiles, smart TVs, DVD players, and household devices.

There are two main types of computers commonly used in the home. These are the Apple Mac and the PC. By definition, a Mac is a personal computer but, in computer-speak, a PC refers to a computer other than a Mac.


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