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Big Iron

Definition - What does Big Iron mean?

Big iron is a slang word commonly used to describe a very large, expensive and extremely fast computer. It is often used to refer to oversized computers such as Cray’s supercomputer or IBM’s mainframe.

The term big iron originated in the 1970s, when smaller computers known as minicomputers were introduced. To describe larger computers compared to the small minicomputers, the term big iron was coined by users and the industry.

Big iron computers are primarily used by large companies to process massive amounts of data such as bank transactions. They are designed with considerable internal memory, a high aptitude for external storage, top-quality internal engineering, superior technical support, fast throughput input/output and reliability.

Techopedia explains Big Iron

The term is said to be a derivative of the term "iron"; when used as slang, this term refers to a handgun. Iron is also used to refer to something sturdy, strong and tough. The term big iron is frequently applied to highly effective computer ranches and servers that have resilient steel stands.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the market for mainframes, or big iron, was mainly through IBM and companies like General Electric, RCA Corp., Honeywell International Inc., Burroughs Corporation, Control Data Corp., NCR Corp. and UNIVAC. Later servers based on the microcomputer design, or “dumb terminals”, were developed to cut costs and create greater availability for users. The dumb terminal was eventually replaced by the personal computer (PC). Subsequently, big iron was restricted to mostly government and financial institutions.

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