New SAT Reading Practice Test 41: Evolution of Computers Passage

Home > SAT Test > SAT Reading Practice Tests

Test Information

Question 11 questions

Time 14 minutes

See All test questions

Take more free SAT Reading Practice Tests available from

Evolution of Computers Passage

If you had to count every person who lived in
the United States, and there were no calculators
and no computers of any kind to help you, how
would you do it?
05That's the puzzle that nineteen-year-old engi-
neer Herman Hollerith was faced with in the 1880s
when he was employed by the U.S. Census Bureau.
His solution was to invent a machine that stored
information by putting patterns of holes in stiff
10pasteboard—an idea that Hollerith struck upon by
observing the Jacquard loom, an automatic weav-
ing machine that was controlled by specially coded
punch cards. The machine, called the Hollerith
tabulating machine and sorting box, was used
15to record the 1890 population census and short-
ened what had been a seven-year job to just three
Because Hollerith's machine used mechanical
counters operated by electromagnets and circuits, it
20is considered the very first computer. Go anywhere
today—a grocery store, an office, a school—and
you see one of its many descendants, such as the
calculator, personal computer, iPad, and smart-
phone. Though Hollerith retired to work at a cattle
25farm in Maryland, in 1924 the company he founded
was renamed International Business Machines
(IBM), which is still one of the largest technology
corporations in the world.

Data Storage

As a data storage medium, Hollerith's inven-
30tion was revolutionary, but one problem with it
was the physical size and quantities of cards, each
punch card holding only 960 bits of information.
Many types of companies needed to hold more
data in a smaller space. A big leap was made in the
351950s with the invention of magnetic tape, which
consisted of long strips of plastic with a magnetized
coating that could store as much data as 10,000
punch cards. A single reel was about the size of a
dinner plate, and could be read from and written
40to rapidly. In 1963, Philips introduced magnetized
tape in a small cassette, which became a popular
choice for businesses to store data using computers.
Nevertheless, tapes were still cumbersome, and
they would degrade over time. Then came the hard
45drive. IBM made one of the first, in 1956, called
305 RAMAC. It was bigger than a refrigerator and
contained fifty discs, each two feet in diameter. The
305 RAMAC could store 4.4 megabytes of data.
By comparison, at about the size of a wallet, three
50floppy discs, a popular medium from the 1980s and
1990s, held the same amount of information.
Hard drives have been constantly improving
ever since, getting smaller, faster, and more energy-
efficient. With the invention of the flash drive
55and the micro-SD card, our information storage
platforms are almost too small to handle with our
bare hands.
Over the years, the price of data storage space
has decreased exponentially. In 1984, a 5-megabyte
60drive cost $1,400, or $280 per megabyte. Within
five years, this was cut in half, and since then, the
popularity of personal computers for home and
business has driven the price even lower. In 2010,
the cost per megabyte was less than ten cents.


65The microprocessor, or Central Processing Unit
(CPU), is the brain inside every computer,
tablet, and smartphone. It's a silicon semiconductor
chip that contains the basic logic and arithmetic
functions that the device needs in order to run.
70The CPU receives and decodes instructions from
keyboards, touch screens, and Wi-Fi adapters and
sends signals out in a timed sequence to devices
such as monitors, printers, and networks.
The first microprocessor was devised in 1971
75and called the Intel 4004. Measuring just 1/8″ by
1/16″, it was as powerful as the electronic computer
of 25 years prior, which weighed 30 tons and used
18,000 vacuum tubes. It was said about that com-
puter that the lights of Philadelphia dimmed when
80it was turned on.
And yet, as fast as the 4004 Intel was, today's
CPUs are thousands of times faster. One way that
chips get faster is by the addition of more, and
smaller, transistors. Though the Intel 4004 proces-
85sor held 2,300 transistors, a typical Intel processor
today, with a 32-nanometer processing die, holds
560,000,000 transistors. (One nanometer equals
one-billionth of a meter.)
Manufacturers of microprocessors also speed up
90chips by making circuits smaller; when the circuits
are more compact, the microprocessors become
faster because electrons have less distance to travel.
As chips get smaller, more of them can be etched
onto the same diameter silicon wafer by improved
95fabrication equipment. Consequently, computers
that used to require warehouses now fit in the palm
of our hands.

1. The stance that the author takes in this passage is most similar to that of

  • A. a computer industry spokesperson explaining why innovation is good for the economy.
  • B. a consumer advocate explaining why the price of computers continues to fall.
  • C. a columnist outlining the evolution of computer speed and storage over time.
  • D. an efficiency expert discussing how the Census Bureau can improve its performance.

2. Based on the first three paragraphs, what claim is the author making about Hollerith's invention?

  • A. The invention of the Jacquard loom was inspired by the success of Hollerith's machine.
  • B. Subsequent technological innovations were based on Hollerith's original design.
  • C. The success of the 1890 census propelled IBM to the forefront of the computer industry.
  • D. Hollerith's mechanical counters continued to be used years after their original debut.

3. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 13-17 ("The machine … three months")
  • B. Lines 18-20 ("Because Hollerith's … computer")
  • C. Lines 20-24 ("Go anywhere … smartphone")
  • D. Lines 24-28 ("Though Hollerith … world")

4. As used in line 43, "cumbersome" most nearly means

  • A. awkward.
  • B. bulky.
  • C. heavy.
  • D. ponderous.

5. The author poses a rhetorical question at the beginning of the passage primarily to help readers

  • A. understand the enormity of Hollerith's initial task.
  • B. relive the bygone era in which Hollerith lived.
  • C. appreciate the job of the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • D. acknowledge how important computers are.

6. The passage most strongly suggests that which of the following is true?

  • A. The 1980s saw the most significant innovations in the history of personal computing.
  • B. The price of data storage space has risen due to consumer demand for personal computers.
  • C. Continued innovation in data storage devices has resulted in increased value for consumers.
  • D. Computer industry profits have fallen as a result of decreased costs related to data storage.

7. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 54-57 ("With the … hands")
  • B. Lines 59-60 ("In 1984 … megabyte")
  • C. Lines 60-63 ("Within five … lower")
  • D. Lines 63-64 ("In 2010 … ten cents")

8. What explicit meaning may correctly be drawn from the data in the graphic?

  • A. The most significant decrease in microchip transistor sizes occurred between 2000 and 2008.
  • B. The decline in microchip transistor sizes will most likely level out after the year 2020.
  • C. Microchip transistor sizes are expected to increase to approximately 10 nanometers by the year 2020.
  • D. The difference in microchip transistor sizes from 2004 and 2012 is 40 nanometers.

9. As used in line 44, "degrade" most nearly means

  • A. corrupt.
  • B. decay.
  • C. humiliate.
  • D. lower.

10. In line 79, the author most likely refers to the fact that a computer in the 1940s dimmed the lights of Philadelphia to demonstrate the relationship between

  • A. the size of the Intel 4004 and of its predecessor.
  • B. the speed of contemporary CPUs and of the Intel 4004.
  • C. the manufacturing process in the 1970s and that of today.
  • D. the number of transistors in the Intel 4004 and in CPUs today.

11. It can be reasonably inferred from the passage and graphic that

  • A. Herman Hollerith's ideas influenced contemporary computers and other devices.
  • B. The price of data storage space has fallen in the face of continual consumer demand.
  • C. Increased consumer demand corresponds to a decrease in transistor sizes in the 2000s.
  • D. Smaller transistors have exponentially increased the processing speed of today's CPUs.