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Definition: computer prices

Computers can fit on the head of a pin or take up an entire room. The microcontroller chip embedded in toys and myriad gadgets can cost pennies, while a supercomputer may cost many millions. The difference is in the amount of work they are capable of doing within the same time frame. A computer's power and price is based on the size and speed of its CPU, memory and storage, and following is a "rough" guide to system cost. See computer system, microprocessor, microcontroller, supercomputer and how to select a computer.

  TYPE OF HARDWARE         Approximate
                            Cost in
  Chips                    2015 USD $

  Microcontroller (MCU)
   (4, 8, 16, 32-bit)      $0.50 - $150
  Microprocessor (MPU)
   (4, 8, 16, 32, 64-bit)     $5 - $800

  Clients (64-bit)

  Desktop/laptop           $200 - $6K
  Workstation               $5K - $20K

  Servers (64-bit)

  Low end rack mounted     $.6K - $5K
  Midrange                 $15K - $250K
  Mainframe category        $1M - $20M
  Supercomputer             $1M - $50M

       K = thousand USD $
       M = million USD $

Small to Large
The tiny microcontrollers from Microchip are used by the tens of thousands in small devices and can cost as little as 50 cents in wholesale quantity. Costing millions, the powerful IBM z196 mainframe stands more than six feet tall and contains 96 processors running at 5.2GHz. (Mainframe image courtesy of IBM.)