Computer terminals have the seemingly simple function of allowing entry into a larger computer system and potentially receiving information from it. One of the most common types of computer terminal is a monitor and keyboard setup that connects to a larger computer through a network interface. Other types of computer terminals include handheld terminals and dedicated devices such as credit card reader terminals and point of sale terminals. With the proliferation of cheap computer hardware, fully functional computer systems can be employed as terminals using terminal emulation software to access the larger mainframe computer.
A monitor and keyboard connected to a larger computer is a common type of computer terminal.
The simplest of computer terminals is called a dumb terminal. This could be something as basic as a monitor and keyboard connected directly to a network router, or it could be a computer with an actual tower unit that is networked in an office. The reason the terminal is considered dumb is because it has almost no processing power of its own and instead just sends and receives signals from a larger central computer that does all the processing. Dumb terminals are cheap and secure because they cannot save information to a local hard drive and must route all information and requests through the main computer system.
A computer tower is a type of computer terminal.
Above the dumb terminals are smart computer terminals. These are real-life computers or laptops that have the basic components of a standard personal computer, including a hard drive, memory, and peripheral ports. These terminals are networked to a central computer system and can function in two ways. They can run custom client software to interface with the mainframe, or they can use terminal emulation software to mimic a dumb terminal in a dedicated window. An intelligent computer terminal has the advantage of allowing some processing tasks to be performed by the local processor rather than relying solely on the mainframe for all actions.
An intelligent computer terminal houses a hard drive.
Handheld computer terminals are often employed in industries that require employees to move around a lot or be in different locations throughout the day. These terminals can be similar to small computers with miniature keyboards and monochrome displays, or they can be customized to enter specific types of data more efficiently. Different types of handheld computer terminals are widely used in surveying, manufacturing, financial trading and inventory control companies.
Other types of computer terminals can include computerized cash registers which are really just dumb terminals that have been customized to allow faster entry of specific information. Networked terminals are similar to smart computer terminals, except that all software running on them is taken off the mainframe, although the local computer actually runs the programs once retrieved. Finally, there are transaction terminals that perform functions such as reading credit cards or allowing access to a bank account; an ATM (ATM) is an example.
Large computer terminals can control sophisticated systems.