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A second electrode, the anode or plate, will attract those electrons if it is at a more positive voltage.The result is a net flow of electrons from the filament to plate.Although some applications had counterparts using earlier technologies such as the spark gap transmitter or mechanical computers, it was the invention of the vacuum tube that made these technologies widespread and practical.In the 1940s the invention of semiconductor devices made it possible to produce solid-state devices, which are smaller, more efficient, more reliable, more durable, and cheaper than tubes.This type is called a thermionic tube or thermionic valve.

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Adding one or more control grids within the tube allows the current between the cathode and anode to be controlled by the voltage on the grid or grids.However, there are still a few applications for which tubes are preferred to semiconductors; for example, the magnetron used in microwave ovens, and certain high-frequency amplifiers.One classification of vacuum tubes is by the number of active electrodes, (neglecting the filament or heater).Other reasons for using a top cap include improving stability by reducing grid-to-anode capacitance, improved high-frequency performance, keeping a very high plate voltage away from lower voltages, and accommodating one more electrode than allowed by the base.There was even an occasional design that had two top cap connections.