Fifth Generation Computers (1989-Present)

Fifth Generation Computers (1989-Present)

The trend of further miniaturization of electronic components, a dramatic increase in the power of microprocessor chips, and an increase in the capacity of main memory and hard disk continued during fifth generation computers. VLSI technology became VLSI (Ultra-Large-Scale Integration) technology in the fifth generation resulting, in the production of microprocessor chips having ten million electronic components. In fact, the speed of microprocessors and the size of the main memory and hard disk doubled almost every eighteen months. As a result, many features found in the CPUs of large mainframe systems of third- and fourth-generation systems became part of microprocessor architecture in the fifth generation. This ultimately resulted in the availability of very powerful and compact computers becoming available at cheaper rates and deals of traditional large mainframe systems. Recently, processor manufacturers started building multicore processor chips instead of increasingly powerful (faster) single-core processor chips. The multicore chips improve overall performance by handling more work in parallel.

Due to this fast pace of advancement in computer technology, we see more compact and more powerful computers being introduced almost every year at more or less the same price or even cheaper. Notable among these are portable notebook computers that give the power of a PC to their users even while traveling, powerful desktop PCs and workstations, powerful servers, powerful supercomputers, and handheld computers.

Storage technology also advanced making larger main memory and disk storage available in newly introduced systems. Currently, PCs having a few Gigabytes (GB) of main memory and 80 to 320 Gigabytes (GB) of hard disk capacity are common, Similarly, workstations having 4 to 64 Gigabytes of main memory and a few hundreds of Gigabytes of hard disk capacity are common. RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) technology enables the configuration of a bunch of disks as a single large disk. It, thus, supports larger hard disk space with better in-built reliability. During fifth generation computers, optical disks (popularly known as Compact Disks or CDs) emerged as a Popular portable mass storage media.

In the area of large-scale systems, fifth-generation saw the emergence of more powerful supercomputers based on parallel processing technology. They used multiple processors and were of two types— shared memory and distributed memory parallel computers. In a shared memory parallel computer, a high-speed bus or communication network interconnects a number of processors to a common main memory, whereas in a distributed memory parallel computer, a communication network interconnects a number of processors, each with its own memory.

These systems use parallel programming techniques to break a problem into smaller problems and execute them in parallel on multiple processors of the system. Processors of a shared memory parallel computer use a memory access mechanism for communication, whereas those of a distributed memory parallel computer using a message-passing mechanism for communication. Distributed memory parallel computers have better scalability than shared memory parallel computers and are now built by clustering together powerful commodity workstations by using a high-speed commodity switched network. This is known as clustering technology.

During fifth generation computers, the Internet emerged with associated technologies and applications. it made it possible for computer users sitting across the globe to communicate with each other within minutes by use of electronic mail (known as e-mail) facility. A vast ocean of information became readily available to computer users through the World Wide Web (known as WWW). Moreover, several new types of exciting applications like electronic commerce, virtual libraries, virtual classrooms, distance education, etc. emerged during the period.

The tremendous processing power and the massive storage capacity of fifth generation computers also made them a very useful and popular tool for a wide range of multimedia applications dealing with information containing  text, graphics, animation, audio, and video data. In general, the data size for multimedia information is much larger than plain text information because the representation of graphics, animation, audio, and video media in digital form requires a much larger number of bits than that required for the representation of plain text. Because of this, multimedia computer systems require faster processors, larger storage devices, larger main memory, good graphics terminal, and input/output devices required to play any audio or video associated with a multimedia application program. The availability of multimedia computer systems resulted in a tremendous growth of multimedia applications during fifth generation computers.

In the area of operating systems, some new concepts that gained popularity during the flfth-generation include microkernels, multithreading, and multicore operating systems. Microkernel technology enabled designers to model and design operating systems in a modular fashion. This makes operating systems easier to design and implement, easier to modify or add new services, and allows users to implement and use their own services. Multithreading technology is a popular way to improve application performance through parallelism. In traditional operating systems, the basic unit of CPU scheduling is a process but in multithreading operating systems basic unit of CPU, scheduling is a thread. In such operating systems, a process consists of an address space containing its instructions and data, and one or more threads sharing the same address space. Hence these systems can create a new thread, switch CPU between threads, and share resources between threads of the same process more efficiently than between processes, resulting in faster execution and better overall system performance. A multicore operating system can run multiple programs at the same time on a multicore chip with each core handling a separate program.

In the area of programming languages, concepts that gained popularity during the fifth generation are JAVA programming language, and parallel programming libraries like MPI (Message Passing Interface) and PVM (Parallel Virtual Machine). JAVA is used primarily on the World Wide Web. it supports Java-based applets allowing web pages to have dynamic information and more interactivity with users of web information.  MPI and PVM libraries enable the development of standardized parallel programs so that a programmer can easily port and execute a parallel program developed for one parallel computer on other parallel computers. MPI is used for distributed memory parallel computers and PVM is used for shared memory parallel computers.

Features of Fifth Generation Computers

Characteristics of fifth generation computers are as follows:

  • Portable PCs (called notebook computers) are much smaller and handier than PCs of fourth generation allowing users to use computing facilities even while traveling.
  • Fifth-generation desktop PCs and workstations are several times more powerful than PCs of the fourth generation.
  • Although fifth-generation mainframes and supercomputers require proper air-conditioning of the rooms/areas in which they are located, no air-conditioning is normally required for notebook computers, desktop PCs, and workstations.
  • They consume less power than their predecessors do.
  • They are more reliable and less prone to hardware failures than their predecessors were, requiring negligible maintenance costs.
  • Many of the large-scale fifth generation computers have a hot-plug feature that enables a failed component to be replaced with a new one without the need to shut down the system Hence, the uptime of these systems is very high.
  • They have faster and larger primary and secondary storage as compared to their predecessors.
  • They are general-purpose machines.
  • Their manufacturing does not require manual assembly of individual components into electronic circuits resulting in reduced human labor and cost involved at the assembly stage. Hence, commercial production of these systems is easier and cheaper. However, highly sophisticated technology and an expensive setup are required for manufacturing ULSI chips.
  • The use of standard high-level programming languages allows programs written for one computer to be easily ported to and executed on another computer.
  • More user-friendly interfaces with multimedia features make the systems easier to learn and use by anyone, including children.
  • Newer and more powerful applications, including multimedia applications, make the systems more useful in every occupation.
  • Explosion in the size of the Internet coupled with Internet-based tools and applications have made these systems influence the life of even common people.
  • These systems also use the concept of unbundled software and add-on hardware allowing the users to invest only in the hardware configuration and software of their need and value.
  • With so many types of computers in all price ranges today, we have a computer for almost any type of user whether the user is a child or a world-fame scientist.
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