A front panel or front console (also operator's console or programmer's console) is, on older computers, a panel containing a collection of lights and switches which allows manual control and operation of the computer.
Typical operations which can be performed from the front panel include examining and depositing in locations in main memory and registers, starting and halting the CPU, and debugging initial programs by single-stepping the CPU and watching what it does.
Front panels represented a considerable expense - not so important with early computers, which cost a fortune, but it increasingly became an issue. Some minicomputers went through a stage where special microcode allowed the CPU to communicate with the operator over an asynchronous serial line attached to a terminal to perform the operations performed by an old-style front panel.
Modern microcomputers have dispensed with the front panel functionality completely; everything is done by software running on the machine.