Build your GIS: Hardware

GIS hardware includes: computers, computer configuration/networks, input devices, printers, and storage systems.

Computers for GIS usage can be PCs at the low end, or supercomputers and X-Terminals at the high end. These computers can be stand-alone units or can be hooked into a network environment. To assist with source data capture & real -time GIS data, many companies are employing handheld technologies in the form of PDA’s and GPS units. The latter also affords companies the ability to track moving features, adding a new dimension to their GIS solutions.

Input devices include digitizers and scanners. A digitizer is the device used for selecting features from a hard copy map, which are then registered to a coordinate system. Currently digitizing is the most common method for converting existing maps and images into digital form. However, this process can be tedious, especially when converting high-density maps. Scanners sometimes can replace digitizing by automatically converting hard-copy maps to a digital raster file. Once in a GIS, the raster image can be converted to a vector format through a “raster-to-vector” conversion.

The third hardware component is the printer/plotter. These devices are used to produce a hardcopy map. There are several types of printers including: matrix, inkjet/bubblejet and laser. Plotter types include: laser, electrostatic, direct thermal and pen plotter.

Finally, GIS storage systems include: optical disks, magnetic disks (such as a hard drive), floppy disks or magnetic tapes.

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