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3.1.3 Second Generation (1954--1962)

The second generation saw several important developments at all levels of computer system design, from the technology used to build the basic circuits to the programming languages used to write scientific applications.

Electronic switches in this era were based on discrete diode and transistor technology with a switching time of approximately 0.3 microseconds. The first machines to be built with this technology include TRADIC at Bell Laboratories in 1954 and TX-0 at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory. Memory technology was based on magnetic cores which could be accessed in random order, as opposed to mercury delay lines, in which data was stored as an acoustic wave that passed sequentially through the medium and could be accessed only when the data moved by the I/O interface.

Important innovations in computer architecture (The term ``computer architecture'' generally refers to aspects of a computer's internal organization that are visible to programmers or compiler writers; see Chapter CA.) included index registers for controlling loops and floating point units for calculations based on real numbers. Prior to this accessing successive elements in an array was quite tedious and often involved writing self-modifying code (programs which modified themselves as they ran; at the time viewed as a powerful application of the principle that programs and data were fundamentally the same, this practice is now frowned upon as extremely hard to debug and is impossible in most high level languages). Floating point operations were performed by libraries of software routines in early computers, but were done in hardware in second generation machines.