Created by Dr Richard Daystrom in 2243, the Duotronic circuit was a revolutionary advance in computer power and speed. Such was the increase in performance possible with this technology that it formed the basis of much of the computing hardware of the time; every Federation Starship computer for eighty years was based on duotronics, and elements of this technology was also used in sensor technology.1 Duotronics were eventually replaced by Isolinear optical chips in 2329.2
Developed by Dr. Richard Daystrom in the 2260s, the multitronic computer offered an enormous increase in capability over the duotronic systems in use at the time. Dr Daystrom had developed a method of impressing brain engrams onto the computer's circuits, allowing it to think in the manner of a humanoid mind. The first multitronic system was the M-5, a computer designed to automate most of the functions of a Starship in order to reduce manning levels. The M-5 would be in total control of the ship, making all command decisions.1
The M-5 performed superbly in simulations, but when it was tested on board the USS Enterprise the computer rapidly became unstable. It began attacking targets at random, eventually inflicting heavy damage and casualties on a four ship Starfleet taskforce. Dr Daystrom was able to disable the M-5 by convincing it that its actions had been at odds with its basic programming to protect Human life.1
After M-5 Starfleet became very wary of using computers in this manner. Although Starships of the future would be able to be run under nearly total automation3, Starship command decisions have never again been placed in the hands of a machine.
The isolinear chip replaced the duotronic circuit in 2329, and remains a major component of Federation computer systems over forty five years later.2 The major advance which came with isolinear chips was the combination of storage and processing power into a single totally integrated unit. Adding memory to a computer therefore automatically added more processing power, making upgrading a much easier task. Small numbers of isolinear storage units are used in both PADDs and tricorders, while large computer systems can mount hundreds or even thousands of chips, all running as parallel processor units, to give enormous storage and processing capacity.4
The main computer system of the Galaxy class Starship, as launched in the early 2360's, comprised three redundant computer cores. Each core was a ten story structure which had 2,048 dedicated storage modules containing 144 isolinear chips - a total of 294,912 chips per core. At 2.15 kiloquads per chip this gave a total storage capacity of 634,060.8 kiloquads per core, making the system one of the most powerful mobile computers in service. The Library Computer Access and Retrieval System user interface is widely used in Starfleet, and allows the core memory to be accessed at 4,600 kiloquads per second. Accessing the entire memory of a core can therefore be done in under 2.5 minutes.5
Other species also use isolinear technology - the Cardassians use rods rather than chips, but the operating principles are otherwise very similar to Starfleets technology.6 Starfleet has gained considerable experience in the use of Cardassian computer systems since taking over the running of Deep Space Nine.7
One development common to several users of isolinear technology is the use of symmetrical (and therefore non propulsive) subspace field encasement. Jacketing a computer system in such a field allows the chips to run at faster than light speeds, greatly increasing processing speed. The original Galaxy class computer could speed up operations by up to 335% using this method.4
Bioneural gel packs are a relatively new advance in Federation computing. The system is not a replacement for the isolinear computer system, but is rather an augmentation of it. By distributing gel packs throughout a Starship's computer system information can be organized more efficiently, speeding up response time.8 Early use aboard the new Intrepid class starships proved reasonably successful, although the biological nature of the packs has led to problems such as infection.9 The packs are now being used as standard aboard all new Starship designs, as well as some support craft.
Developed by Dr. Noonian Soong, the positronic network is undoubtedly one of the most unique forms of computer ever fielded.10 The system uses the decay of positrons to form a sophisticated neural network. First suggested in the fictional works of Issac Asimov in the 20th century, the positronic brain was long thought to be impossible but was finally realized by Soong in the 24th century. As far as is known, Soong created only two fully working positronic nets, for the androids Data and Lore10, and one partially functioning network for the prototype android B-4.11 Lore was judged unsuccessful after developing undesirable personality traits and dismantled; he was later re-assembled by Starfleet personnel, but his unstable personality led him into various criminal endeavours10 and he was eventually disassembled again by Data.12
Data was thought for some years to be the only remaining Soong type Android, until B4 was discovered in 2379.11 Data was originally activated in 2335, but his brain was shut down when he was left on Omicron Theta by Soong after the Crystalline Entity attacked. He was dsicovered by the Starship Tripoli two years later and reactivated.10 At this time his personality was almost a complete blank, and he has devoted considerable effort to the development of social skills in order to integrate into Federation society - with a considerable degree of success.13 Study of Data has revealed surprisingly few clues as to how Soong was able to create a working positronic network. It is known that Data's neural network has biological components, and this has allowed his behaviour to be affected by the Psi 2000 virus.14 In 2364 Commander Maddox of the Daystrom Technological Institute proposed dismantling Data in order to learn more about his functioning, including Soong's method of resolving the problem of electron resistance across the filaments in Data's brain. However, Data objected to the procedure on the grounds that Maddox did not yet have sufficient knowledge to carry it out safely. As of 2364 Data had an ultimate storage capacity of 800 quadrillion bits and a processing speed of 60 trillion operations per second.15
An advancement in submicron matrix transfer technology in 2366 allowed Data to attempt to create a new positronic network, resulting in the android Lal. Lal's brain was in many ways superior to Data's, allowing her to experience emotions and overcome some of the program limitations imposed on Data by Soong. Unfortunately, Lal suffered system wide cascade failure and ceased operating after only two weeks.16
By 2371 positronic technology had advanced to the stage where implants could replace some of the functions of a damaged organic brain, although there are considerable ethical difficulties inherent in this type of procedure.17
The Personal Access Display Device is one of the most widely used methods of accessing and manipulating information. Although the capabilities of the Padd are limited compared to the larger desktop units, their small size offers a convenience that larger units lack. Indeed, the effectiveness of the principle is shown by the fact that while they have been produced in a massive variety of sizes and shapes, virtually every major species has produced a design which shares the same basic features.
Padds are almost always handheld devices with a large surface area relative to their thickness. They include both memory and processing capacity, usually with some form of remote linkage to larger more capable systems. Almost all have a display screen which takes up 50% or more of the surface. This is usually touch sensitive, but is supplemented by a small number of physical controls.
Starfleet employs three standard model Padds; a 10.16 x 15.24 x 0.95 cm, a 20.32 x 25.41 x 0.95 cm, and a 22.86 x 30.48 x 1.27 cm model. Made from micromilled duranium, the units operate on sarium-krellide energy cells and have masses ranging from 113.39 to 340.19 grams. Dynamic resolution switching is employed by the nanopixel molecular matrix screen. Memory ranges from 15.3 kiloquads in the smallest to 97.5 kiloquads in the largest. All units contain a subspace transceiver assembly to allow connection with more powerful computers in order to send or receive data or share larger processing tasks.
Starfleet is currently evaluating Padds which will introduce bio-neural elements, speeding up response time in line with the performance gains in modern Starships.18