A minicomputer is a small general-purpose computer that uses one or more processors to complete work. With limited expandability of processing power, RAM storage, they fall between microcomputers and mainframe computers.

The term minicomputer was coined in the 1960s by IBM, and PDP-8, developed by Digital Equipment Corporation in 1964, became popular as the world’s first minicomputer. 

How are minicomputers used?

The main purpose of minicomputers is to allow individuals to do computing efficiently without needing to access a mainframe.  Minicomputers can also be used control manufacturing processes and process business transactions. Further, they are used to control scientific and laboratory experiments and process the data generated by those experiments.

Minicomputers can be used as network servers to reduce the workload of the server and act as front-end processors for mainframe computers. They can also be used for file handling, database management, engineering computations, entertainment, and design/creative work.

How does a minicomputer work?

The minicomputer operates the same way as a mainframe computer does. The CPU of a minicomputer contains integrated semiconductor chips that perform all arithmetic and logic functions. This processor handles intensive computing tasks or high workloads locally while connecting to a server.

The essential parts of a minicomputer include:

  • Processor: At minimum, a central processor is used to handle computing and grpahics tasks. An integrated or freestanding graphics processor (GPU) may also be a separate chip to increase efficiency 
  • Memory: Similar to a mainframe computer, it has two types of memory—read-only memory (ROM) and random-access memory (RAM).
  • Storage: Minicomputers use hard drives or flash memory to store information.
  • Operating System: Use a Linux, Windows, or macOS operating systems to run programs.
  • Computer Ports: Allow connections to peripherals, external stprage, displays, and networks. 

Key features and benefits of a minicomputer

Aside from size, minicomputers possess most of the features of a mainframe computer. Other significant features and benefits of using a minicomputer include:

  • Minicomputers’ small size makes them easy to carry and store.
  • A minicomputer can support multitasking through threading, and the use of one or more processors.
  • They’re less expensive and suitable for small businesses and individuals.

What is a large minicomputer?

Seemingly a contradiction in terms, a midsized computer. In size and power, minicomputers lie between workstations and mainframes. In the past decade, the distinction between large minicomputers and small mainframes has blurred, however, as has the distinction between small minicomputers and workstations. But in general, a minicomputer is a multiprocessing system capable of supporting from 4 to about 200 users simultaneously.

This definition was reviewed and updated by Siji Roy in January 2022.

Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal is a freelance business and technology writer covering Internet technologies and online business since the late '90s.
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