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1.3 - Computer System Types

Exam Board:



2016 - Unit 1 

Different types of computer system are available to purchase and use, each with their own benefits, drawbacks and typical functions


A computer suitable for use at an ordinary desk. They are bulky and not so easy to move. Individual components (e.g. graphics card) can be upgraded over time.


Desktops are versatile, they allow the user to carry out a range of activities, including document creation, data manipulation, game playing, design and communication facilities for personal or business purposes.

Tablet / Laptop

A portable type of computer. Many modern laptops can also fold back, effectively turning them into a tablet with a screen-based virtual keyboard.


They can perform many of the functions of the traditional PC, but the screen size can be restrictive, especially if several documents need to be open at the same time. Because it can be transported through public spaces, loss or theft is more likely.


Embedded Systems

Smartphones can be used to run a range of applications including email, social media, videos and music. However, they can negatively affect social interaction (e.g. by using them and ignoring people around you) and reduce spatial awareness when being used.


Security is another issue as they can be easily lost or stolen. Security software for phones is not as secure as other computer systems so sensitive data should not be held on smartphones.

An embedded system is when a smaller computer system is installed within a larger device, such as a washing machine, traffic light or car. Embedded systems have a dedicated purpose and often run in real-time.


The internet of things (IoT) describes a global network of connected objects that were previously 'dumb', such as smart bulbs, smart plugs and thermostats.


Mainframes are huge and very powerful computers that are reliable. Mainframes are used to process large amounts of data and can be used to solve scientific and engineering problems that require complex calculations with large datasets (e.g. weather forecasting or scientific simulations).

Mainframes are reliable and secure because they have large backup capabilities. Mainframes are very expensive and require teams of experts to oversee them, and so are used only by organisations that need to process very large amounts of data quickly, such as banks and airlines.


These are still experimental and in development. They work with quantum bits (qubits) which, unlike binary, are not limited to just two states (0 or 1). Qubits represent atomic particles, which can be in several different states at the same time.

A fully working quantum computer would potentially be able to process data and perform calculations millions of times faster than currently available computers.

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Questo's Questions

1.3 - Computer System Types:

1. For each type of computer system, make a list of benefits, drawbacks and possible uses.

  • a. Desktop [6]

  • b. Tablet / Laptop [6]

  • c. Smartphone [6]

  • d. Embedded System [6]

  • e. Mainframe [6]

  • f. Quantum Computer [6]

2. Suggest and justify which type of computer system is most suitable for the following scenarios:

  • a. Updating a spreadsheet while on a train. [3]

  • b. Forecasting the next week’s weather. [3]

  • c. A PE teacher recording sports day race times. [3]

  • d. Playing a new video game on maximum settings. [3]

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