What is a PC? Is a Laptop a PC? Definition of a Personal Computer

by | Oct 1, 2020 | Blog

It may seem a straightforward question with an obvious answer. But it’s a tough question because of the receding boundary between a computer and other ‘computer-like’ devices. Modern gadgets can do so many things like a computer. Therefore, many of us are not sure about the exact definition of a pc even though we use […]

It may seem a straightforward question with an obvious answer. But it’s a tough question because of the receding boundary between a computer and other ‘computer-like’ devices. Modern gadgets can do so many things like a computer. Therefore, many of us are not sure about the exact definition of a pc even though we use the term every day.

What is a PC?

PC means personal computer. The term PC was coined by Ed Roberts when he introduced the MITS Altair 8800 in the 70s. Later, the word PC was popularized by IBM (International Business Machine Corporation). The first personal computer produced by IBM in 1981 was called the IBM PC. Later, many other companies started making computers by following the IBM technology. Those computers were also known as IBM PC or IBM Compatibles. The term ‘IBM PC’ fell out of use because of varied manufacturers and diversified modern PCs.

A pc is essentially a computer that is designed for use by one person at a time. A computer is an electronic device that stores and processes data based on the instructions provided by a software or hardware program. Personal computers are made for general users. You can use a pc to browse the web, type documents, send an email, and play games. You can also use it to edit and create a presentation, spreadsheet, and videos.

Some people also use the term pc based on the operating system of a computer. There are two most influential OS in the market — Microsoft OS and Mac OS. If a computer runs on a Microsoft operating system, people call it a pc. Many people think a Mac is different from a Windows pc. The truth is, there isn’t much of a difference between Windows OS and Mac Os. Both are operating systems for personal computers. And, only operating systems don’t determine if a device is a pc or not. Then, what are the criteria to call a device a pc?

What Makes a PC, a PC?

First of all, a personal computer is meant to be used by one person at a time. So, there is no confusion about the word “personal.” The problem lies with the word “computer.” What is a computer? Is a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone a computer? To resolve all the confusion about the definition of a personal computer, I have figured out some basic features that every pc has. If a device contains all these features, we can call it a pc.

  • A PC has an operating system. It can be Windows OS, Mac OS, or even Android OS.
  • Personal computers have a microprocessor. It is the microprocessor that allows manufacturers to put an entire CPU on one chip.
  • Computers store data in its memory.
  • PCs have the ability to take input and produce output.
  • You can install software or apps on a personal computer.
  • A personal computer is designed to be used by one person at a time.
  • A pc can be any size. Size doesn’t matter. As long as it’s used by one person and has other main features of a computer, it’s a pc.
  • Personal computers have multitasking capabilities. That is, it can do many tasks simultaneously and efficiently.

PC: a laptop, a tabtet,  and a smartphone side by side on a table

Is a Laptop a PC?

Yes, of course, why not? A laptop is a pc in every way. Is there anything that a laptop computer cannot do, but a desktop computer can? Desktop pcs and laptops are quite identical. Their hardware and software capabilities are almost the same. Modern laptops are coming with such high-end configurations that they can certainly beat a desktop in terms of configuration and personal usage.

Every laptop has an operating system, a microprocessor, and a memory to store data. Laptops can also take inputs, process data, and produce output. You can install every desktop software and app on a laptop. Moreover, laptops have multitasking capabilities. So, what is lacking to call it a pc? Nothing. So, a laptop is a pc. Laptops are a more modern and more updated personal computer. 

Some people think pc refers to only a desktop computer. That’s a wrong conception. There are some solid reasons behind people’s perception that a personal computer means a desktop computer. Compared to desktops computers, laptops are a more recent invention. Before the laptop revolution and popularity in modern life, we used desktops for our personal use and called it a PC. So, it stayed in our mind that pc means a desktop computer. However, if you look at their configuration and capabilities, there isn’t much of a difference between a desktop and a laptop.

What Does a PC Do?

A personal computer can do a lot of different things. All you need is to install a software or an app to make the computer do something for you. Every software does a specific job, such as – you can browse on the web with a browser, you can create, type, and store documents with a word processor, you can also play audio and video with a media player. Other common uses of a computer are – sending an email, playing games, creating and editing a presentation, working on a spreadsheet, editing photos, and videos, etc. 

How Does a PC Work?

It’s a complicated process. But basically, a computer takes input, stores data, processes the data, and produces output. Inputs are like instructions. It’s a way of communicating with the computer. We tell a computer what to do by providing instructions and commands. 

There are many input devices like — mouse, keyboard, scanner, or even software installed on the computer. After taking the input or instructions, the CPU (central processing unit) processes the information and produces results. Once the data is ready, it sends the data through an output device. An output device can be a monitor, speaker, printer, ports, etc.

Different Types of Personal Computer

Most of us think there are only two kinds of pcs — desktop and laptop. However, pcs come in many shapes and sizes, and they perform many different functions. The most common type of pcs are desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc. In the most general sense, a calculator, scan groceries at the store, and an ATM is also a computer.

You May Also like: Are Laptops Good for Gaming?

Is a Mac a PC?

Yes. There is not much of a difference between Mac and personal computers. A Mac and a pc use almost the same hardware. The reason behind differentiating between a Mac and a PC is their operating system. Most of the pcs run Windows OS, while Macs have only Mac OS. That’s why people think Macs and pcs are different. The truth is, you can even install Windows OS on a Mac computer.

Macs have all the qualities of a personal computer. It is used by an individual, which makes it a personal computer. Like other pcs, Macs have an OS, a processor, memory, input and output capabilities, apps and software installation program, multitasking capacity — every definitive feature of a pc. So, in every way a Mac is also a pc. All Macs are PCs, but all PCs are not Macs.

Is a Tablet a Computer?

a tablet pc on a table

Yes, a tablet is a computer. If we look at the features that make a computer a computer, we see most of the standard features of a computer are present in every tablet. A tablet has an operating system and a processor. It can take input, and store data, process information, and produce output like any other computer. Tablets are exclusively designed for use by one person at a time. They can also do many tasks simultaneously. 

So, there is not much distinction between regular desktops/laptops and tablets. The main difference is the level of capacity. Tablets are usually less capable than a laptop or desktop. The process of data input is also different in a tablet. Tablets don’t have a mouse or keyboard. Instead, it has a touchpad and accepts inputs directly on its screen. 

Is a Smartphone a Computer?

Yes. Why not? A smartphone has all the basic principles of a computer. Like a computer, a smartphone has an operating system, a processor, takes input, stores memory, processes, and produces output. You can install many apps on it. And it has multitasking capabilities too. So, what’s lacking in it to call it a computer? Maybe smartphones have limited capacity compared to the modern desktop and laptop pcs. But for a small device, it has way more capabilities than the 70s and 80s computers. In fact, modern smartphones are much more powerful computers than the original pcs were. So, yes, a smartphone is also a computer.


A personal computer is not a particular hardware or a device. It doesn’t necessarily need to run Windows OS to call it a pc. We can classify a device as a personal computer if it contains the fundamental features that constitute a pc. Rapid advancement in technology also makes it hard for us to define a gadget. A gadget that was incapable of doing most pc tasks in the past is now excellent and efficient in doing those tasks. So, the difference between them is getting narrower. That’s why we can include those devices in our definition of a personal computer. And the definition of a personal computer is getting broader day by day.

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