General and Special Purpose Computer: What to Choose?

A guide to choosing the right computer for your needs. Whether for business or personal use.

The difference between a general purposes computer and a special purposes computer is simple. General purpose computers are designed for everyday use. In other words, it can be used for typing documents, listening to music, watching movies, browsing the web or for playing video games. They are normally bought from the store as is and nothing’s modified, except for optional upgrades. Sure, you can still add optional components to fit your needs or, upgrade to a higher memory size, or upgrade to a better video graphics card. In general, general purpose computers are those found at homes for family use, or inside our offices. These are also sometimes much cheaper than a special purpose computer.

At first, we may think that special purpose computers look exactly the same as a normal computer. But that’s not always the case. Although, most of computers look the same, computers that are designed for a specific use looks a lot different. Perhaps, the most common special purpose computer that we see which resembles the normal desktop computers, are those found at a convenience store or supermarket counters. These computers have the same components such as the CPU, Monitor and input devices such as a keyboard and a mouse. The only difference is that the keyboard is designed to input numeric characters and a pre-set product and price combinations. The keys on such keyboards are designed to respond only to the program that the computer is designed to run (usually, a Point of Sale (POS) system). Naturally, the computer will not run any other program other than the POS system.

Most of the time, we come across a computer and we don’t even realize that it’s a computer. The most common computer that we encounter may be a calculator or an ATM machine. Even cars now have a computer. Ever heard a mechanic mentioning a computer box? Also, an ECU system (Engine Control Unit) is also a computer specifically designed for motor vehicle use. A GPS system is also an example of a special purpose computer. These computers can also be found on hospitals. These are the Magnetic Resonance Imaging, an Ultrasound unit or even a digital thermometer.

To put it on a more understandable language, special purpose computers are specifically designed to process specific inputs. For example, a special effects gadget used by guitarists can only process audio input fed to it. Or simply, a simple calculator can only process mathematical inputs no less and no more.

A general purpose computer has the capability to do more but sometimes less efficiently (a hardware may be necessary, most of the time). For example, a general purpose computer can process audio and video inputs without losing its other capabilities. All you need to do is get the hardware and install the software which necessary to run the task you wish for it to perform. In simpler terms, general purpose computers can do almost anything we want it to do unlike the special purpose computer which is designed to do just a thing or two.

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