Minicomputers Key Terms

Find terms that describe types and features of minicomputers

Minicomputer used to be a term that referred to a small computer, about the size of a two-drawer filing cabinet. It originated back when full-sized computers took up entire large rooms. Modern computers take up much less space, so the term minicomputer is changing its meaning, as well.

Today's minicomputers are small and getting smaller. Ultraportable laptops used to be the smallest computers you could get, unless you wanted a handheld computer with no keyboard, but now they have netbooks that are even smaller. Desktop computers can be smaller, too, though sometimes you get less performance from smaller computers.


Netbook is the recently-coined term for very small laptops with less robust specifications than full-sized laptops or desktop computers, and a lower price tag to match. These mini-laptops have smaller screens and sometimes an alternate operating system. They generally don't do everything a full-sized computer can do, but are a portable alternative for those on the go.

Ultraportable laptops

Ultraportable laptops are generally one step larger and more powerful than a netbook. This class of laptops usually has most of the features and specifications of a full-sized laptop, a screen that measures 11 or 12 inches, and a much higher price tag than a netbook.

Small form factor PC

Any type of computer can have a small form factor, but generally this term refers to a desktop PC that is much smaller than a full-sized desktop computer. Some of these computers have all of the features of a regular desktop PC, while others may be missing a CD/DVD drive or other features. Many businesses use small form factor PCs if they network to a robust network that provides some of the functions left out of the smaller computers.

Personal digital assistant, handheld computer, or smartphone

A personal digital assistant, or PDA, is one of the most common terms for the new kind of small handheld devices. They perform many tasks more complicated than those the first generation of desktop computers could perform. Some of these devices you can use just for computing, and others are also a cell phone, making them a smartphone.

Optical drive

An optical drive is a feature of regular-sized computers that is often missing from their smaller cousins. Netbooks and handheld computers often have no optical drive, so they can't play or record to CDs or DVDs. With the increasing amount of video content on the Internet, users of these smaller computers find the trade-off of portability and lower price an acceptable compromise.

Intel Atom processor

Intel designed the Atom processor for smaller mobile computers. This processor, aside from being small, produces less heat. This means it doesn't need a fan, which is a feature that makes other processors take up much more space and power.