Mainframe vs Personal Computer: 11 Differences

By Dominic Chooper on September 08, 2022

Originally, the mainframe computers had all the components fitted in large cases or frames and had themselves installed in large air-conditioned rooms. However, the personal computers, on the other hand, are small enough to sit on a table or on an office desk.

Over the years both mainframes computers and personal computers have evolved significantly in design and performance so much that their differences are not confined to their sizes anymore. This is an article that will help you in that aspect significantly.


Mainframe Computer vs Personal Computer – The 11 Differences

Mainframe Computer and Personal Computer

1. Usage

The mainframe computers are primarily used for large data management.

These large computers are mainly used by the large organizations for managing servers or as central data repositories of a network of computers.

On the other hand, the personal computers are primarily used for home usage that includes entertainment, communication and doing smaller computing purposes such as writing letters, surfing the internet, or use as a communication tool.

2. User Support

The mainframe computers can allow several users at the same time which is why it is so extensively used in large organizations.

On the other hand, a personal computer can support only one user at a time and that is why these machines are so extensively used in homes and small offices by individuals.

3. Size

The mainframe computers originally were as big as a building which over time shrunk to the size of a room and now to a textbook.

Their size started to miniaturize in the 1990s when the mainframe computers were known as hubs or servers.

The personal computers, on the other hand, were always much smaller in size and the main idea to design them is to place it on the desk and offload a bit of the processing workload from the mainframe computers.

However, the size of the personal computers started to become smaller to be available in the form of laptop computers and other handheld devices.

4. The Cost Factor

The mainframe computers are very expensive in comparison to the personal computers.

It is due to their size but more so for their powerful components and higher level of performance.

On the other hand, a personal computer would cost much less in comparison to the mainframe computers.

In fact, you can buy hundreds of personal computers for the price of a single mainframe computer, where the number may vary depending on the features.

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5. Remote Access

In most cases, the mainframe computers can be accessed as well as managed remotely.

On the other hand, a personal computer typically would not offer such benefits.

6. Number of Processes

A mainframe computer will support running a number of applications and processes at the same time.

On the other hand, a personal computer may not be well suited for such functions.

7. Power Consumption

The power consumption of the mainframe computers is very high due to the large number of power processors and other components used to build it.

On the other hand, the personal computers come with smaller components that need less power to operate.

8. Heat Generation and Cooling Requirements

Since the mainframe computers consume a lot of energy, it produces a lot of heat as well.

Therefore, you will need a powerful and efficient cooling system and an air-conditioned room to keep the surrounding temperature low and prevent the system from overheating.

On the other hand, the heat generated by the personal computers is quite less since they consume less power in comparison to the mainframe computers.

Therefore, an average cooling system installed in the personal computer itself will be enough in most of the cases.

9. Portability

The mainframe computers usually come in only one size – extra large.

Therefore, it is not possible to carry it from one place to another. The heavy weight also disallows moving the mainframe computers.

On the other hand, a personal computer can come in varied shapes and sizes so it is easier to move and install from one place to another as and when required.

The laptop computers and other smaller handheld devices can be easily carried in your backpack without straining your shoulders due to their light weight.

10. Upkeep and Maintenance

The cost of upkeep and maintenance of the mainframe computers is also another factor that prevents any average individual from using them.

It will need regular maintenance by a professional technician so that faults can be remedied quickly.

On the other hand, the personal computers may encounter some faults and errors while operating but in most of the cases the users can rectify these issues themselves quickly and easily with easy troubleshooting techniques.

Also, you will not need to keep an in-house professional technician for the upkeep of your personal computer.

11. Vulnerability

The security features built in the mainframe computers are very strong and therefore it is less vulnerable to attacks and other threats. Some machines can even detect any bugs or viruses in the system and remove it themselves.

However, a personal computer is pretty vulnerable to online threats, bugs, and viruses which can only be prevented from attacking the system by scanning it from time to time with one or more additional antivirus software loaded in it.

Which is Better – Mainframe Computer or Personal Computer?

Ideally, when you consider which among the personal computer and a mainframe computer is better, it will basically come down to your computing needs, your preferences, the existing computing infrastructure and a few other considerations.

It is pretty difficult to label one system as better than the other.

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This is because a mainframe computer will be able to do a few things that a personal computer would not, and vice versa.

For example, a personal computer is portable and smaller in size but a mainframe computer will be much more powerful and fast in processing data.

For your better understanding, here are a few other aspects of the two that are also good to know apart from the differences already mentioned above.

You may wonder why and how the mainframe computers, which originated several decades back, are still a vital IT resource across multiple industries and why they still use this old technology where there are newer and flashier ones such as personal computers and cloud computing?

Well, a part of the answer to this question lies in the fact that a personal computer is sold outright almost always but the mainframe computers are often rented or leased to the users at a monthly rate.

This costs just a miniscule fraction of the total cost of an entire mainframe computer.

When companies take lease of these systems, it saves them a lot of money but they can have an easy and less costly upgrade to their computing architecture taking it to the next level since they do not have to buy the whole new machine outright.

The mainframe computers are quite fast in data processing, often reaching up to 30,000 transactions per second with a standard machine, which may go as high as 1.1 million transactions per second with a few specific types of systems.

Though considering apples to apples, the speed of transactions will depend largely on the type of it as well as the different hardware variables into play, the transaction speed of the personal computers can never reach that level.

This means that, irrespective of the ways a mainframe computer is used, it will always outperform a personal computer in terms of data processing speed.

Then, consider the uptime, which is the time period since the system was rebooted last. In the case of the mainframe computers, it can be in years!

In fact, it is not uncommon for a mainframe computer to have an uptime of more than a decade.

On the other hand, as for the personal computers the uptime will be usually 15 days, though it may vary a bit depending on the type of machine in question.

Such uptime is quite good by the standards or personal computers but in no way a match with the mainframe computers.

It is the careful engineering of the mainframe computers along with the use of a copious amount of backup systems and distributed architectures that the uptime of theirs is so high.

There is a high chance that in between the time between two reboots of a single mainframe computer, you will have already used a number of personal computers.

As for the security aspects, the mainframe computers beat the personal computers in this particular aspect as well.

It is true that nothing today is unhackable and that includes the mainframe computers.

However, a mainframe computer is much safer and is less likely to be hacked or compromised in any other way as quickly and frequently as a personal computer.

It is also true that the personal computers may face different types of security threats but all those are also quite different from most of the threats faced by a mainframe computer.

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It is due to the better security features of the mainframe computers that the hackers usually do not try to phish their way into these systems as they would do easily by sending emails to you which you are likely to open on your personal computer.

Yes, the mainframe computers do face some serious security threats because they handle huge amounts of sensitive data.

Also, these systems are usually linked with a lot of different devices which are pretty alluring targets for the hackers that can be easily exploited.

These are quite potential attack vectors that make the mainframe computers so vulnerable.

Even then, the mainframe computers are pretty safe and have a very impressive security track record.

Versatility is another point that differentiates the two systems.

You can do a lot of different jobs on your personal computer right from writing or reading emails to playing games or watching movies, but, at the end of the day, it will not do what it is not intended or designed to do.

The mainframe computers, on the other hand, have a diverse and very wide variety of use cases right from storing bank records to managing airline ticketing systems, and even help you process your tax returns.

This is mainly possible because the mainframe computers support multiple operating systems which offer you the liberty to choose the type of mainframe environment you want to build.

Considering all these factors, it can be said that the mainframe computers are designed to take on any given type of workload for a business, a government agency or any other organization.

These are also future-proofed against any situations or needs that the engineers might not even have foreseen during the time of designing the system.

In short, a mainframe computer will always offer you a very high level of performance in comparison to a personal computer and support workloads that a PC would not.

Therefore, it can be concluded that the mainframe computer will never replace a personal computer because both have different features and functionalities.

At the same time, it can also be said that a personal computer will certainly not replace a mainframe computer since it cannot offer that kind of performance.

Both are designed to do different things in different ways but it is the reliability and unique performance advantages that put the mainframe computers on top of the personal computers.

Now, it is up to you to pick the one that is most suitable for your kind of computing needs.


Therefore, going through this article you can see for yourself that there are lots of differences between a mainframe computer and a personal computer.

If you ever have to make a choice between these two types of computers, this newfound knowledge will surely help you to a great extent.