Well, having been told it couldn't be done, I decided to write a little discourse on the evolution of computers. I'm sure it'll start more than a little controversy, but that's why we're here, right kids?
First, for the uninitiated out there I'll discuss the various parts of computers and how they relate to each other. happily, this will allow me to frame many of my terms of reference for the rest of the argument.
Okay, computers, like biological organisms are made of components. In biology we call these components organs, tissues and cells. In computing we call them motherboard, processor, heat sink, RAM, Hard drive, video card, sound card, speakers, monitor, keyboard, power supply, box and mouse. Each part has it's function. I'll discuss the functions of some of these parts, both biological and computer components, with respect to their evolutionary past, and relate that to how they work. Don't get me wrong, I'm no expert on computers, although I've built a few in my time. Likewise, I'm no expert on evolutionary theory, although I've done many courses on it.
First, I would like to focus on the Hard drive. This is the main data storage 'organ' of the computer, if you will. It looks, externally, like a small silver box, around the same size and shape as a sandwich. Internally, it consists of a series of magnetic disks on a spindle. There is also a head which can both code data to the disk and read it from the disks. Older hard drives tend to work at lower speeds, 5400rpm (still common in laptops and very large drives) but more commonly 7200rpm, with the fastest disks found in specialised graphics computers having hard drives with speeds of 10,000 or even 15,000 rpm. Hard drives can be connected to the rest of the computer in several ways. The most common is the IDE, or ATA, connection. More increasingly common nowadays are serial ATA (SATA), Random Array of Inexpensive Disks (RAID) and the Small Computer Serial Interface (SCSI), mainly due to decreases in cost.
Interestingly, and not known by many people, the first computers didn't have hard drives (HDD), but stored all their information in the short term memory that we refer to as RAM. Whilst RAM is fast (although not as fast as cache), it is also comparitively expensive. So, the computer manufacturers had an idea for allowing the mass, long term, storage of data - magnetic tape. The magnetic tape is simply a long continuous magnetic strip wrapped around a spindle. I hope this is beginning to sound familiar. These huge magnetic tapes were miniturised and encapsulated into a cassette, with two spindles, and the tape wound from one side to the other. The tape "evolved" a protective cover. This was subsequently superceeded by making the magnetic surface a circle, and encapsulating it in a hard, shiny silver case, within the protection of the box. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say that it evolved by mutation and differential survival in the same way that biological systems do, but that it started off as a simple form, and became more complex over time, without losing it's initial function.
This evolution of hard drives continues today, of course. Extra disks are added to the stack, which increases capacity. This is the equivolent to the duplication of genes, which can result in "new bits" being added to organisms. Of course, these new sections are added during development in biology, and influenced by the whole rest of the developing embryo. It's rare for this type of mutation to happen in biology, but has been shown in Drosophila.
Many manufacturers make HDD. Seagate make the best, in my opinion. I've never had a seagate HDD go bad. But there are other manufacturers, Maxtor, Hitachi, Western Digital, IBM and so on. Nowadays, thanks to the efforts of Microsoft and Intel, different HDD are largely interchangable, because the interfaces etc have to be of a generic standard. This is due to the efforts of Microsoft and Intel (largely) in introducing standards. It, of course, led to the demise of many propriatory standards, and is therefore analagous to a mass exinction event. The different manufacturers produces are therefore analogous to different alleles of the same gene. That is to say different versions. The difference in controlling the overall speed, relaibility and power of the computer are less than the influence of alleles on a biological system, but that's to be expected because of the human influence within computing.
More to come, especially upon the interaction of components, and computer networking, bat-fans!