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A minicomputer (colloquially, mini) is "an all-scale computer for which the manufacturer may furnish only limited products and services."
A minicomputer is a class of multi-user computers that lies in the middle range of the computing spectrum — between the largest multi-user systems (mainframe computers) and the smallest single-user systems (microcomputers or personal computers). The class at one time formed a distinct group with its own hardware and operating systems, but the contemporary term for this class of system is midrange computer, such as the higher-end SPARC, POWER and Itanium-based systems from Sun Microsystems, IBM and Hewlett-Packard.
Historical background Edit
In the early years, many scientists learned about using computers by sitting at them and programming them directly. Chafing at the bureaucratic and physical barriers being erected around mainframe systems, these users developed small, specialized laboratory computers which, although not cheap by current standards, were far less expensive than the mainframes that often cost in excess of a million dollars. These small machines, or "minicomputers," were cheap enough so that a person sitting and working at one could afford to use it at less than optimum efficiency. The loss of machine efficiency was offset by the increase in human efficiency.
Initially, minicomputers were used as components of larger computer equipment configurations, as stand-alone equipment for scientific data processing, and as linking gear for data communications. Minicomputers fit these purposes well because they were designed principally to handle the same tasks on a repeat basis. In such cases, the manufacturer's assembly programming language generally was used. Some minicomputer systems also contained a FORTRAN compiler which permitted the user to program in FORTRAN, a programming language used principally for scientific work.
Many minicomputer manufacturers initially did not market complete computer systems. They sold these minicomputers to other manufacturers and to organizations that incorporated them into their own products and systems.
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