Computers 101 – What’s Inside of Your Computer?

The last post in this series discussed tablets and other mobile devices. Today is the final lesson in this series and we are going to talk about the components that are inside of your computer. We’re going to try to keep this as non-technical as possible. The idea is that you should have a foundational knowledge of each of these components. You won’t become an expert after reading this post, but you will (hopefully) have a better understanding what each component is. There will be future posts discussing each item more in-depth. Stay tuned.

Motherboard

Motherboard

The motherboard is the main circuit board of your computer. It’s printed circuit board (PCB) that holds and allows communication between many critical components of your computer, such as the RAM, CPU, and Hard Drive. It also has the connections for many of the connection ports of your computer, such as USB, Ethernet, Audio, and Video ports.

CPU

CPU

CPU stands for Central Processing Unit. This is considered the brains of the computer and functions in very complex ways. The CPU contains a small silicon chip and fits into a special place on the motherboard called a socket. The socket is unique to your make and model of processor. The CPU is responsible for taking inputs and generating outputs. If that doesn’t make sense right now, don’t worry — The CPU is very, very complex. Just know that it’s a special chip that connects to your Motherboard and controls all of the major functions of your computer.

The CPU is covered by a metal heat sink which is used to absorb and disperse heat from the CPU. Because the CPU is always working, it generates a significant amount of heat and requires cooling to maintain optimal efficiency.

CPU’s function at millions (megahertz or MHz) or billions (gigahertz or GHz) of hertz per second, called a clock rate. The clock rate is the number of cycles that a CPU can perform per second. Generally speaking, the better your clock rate is, the more powerful your CPU is.

RAM

RAM

Random Access Memory, or RAM, is where your computer temporarily stores data until it is needed. This is called short-term memory. As a result, your RAM cache is emptied, or cleared, each time you restart your computer. This is why it’s always recommended to try rebooting your computer if you are having an issue.

For example, while you are working on a Word Document, your computer will store this in RAM until you save the file which will then write it to the Hard Drive for permanent storage.

RAM is measured in megabytes or gigabytes, which tells how much your RAM can store at a time. There is also a clock rate associated with your RAM speed, which determines the number of cycles per second, or speed, of your RAM. The more bytes of RAM that your computer has, the faster it will perform and the more things you can do at the same time. If your computer has a limited amount of RAM, you will notice it may run slowly when you have lots of programs open. Adding additional RAM to your computer is a simple upgrade that we will cover in the future.

Storage

HDD

In a previous lesson, we discussed USB Hard Drives. Storage in your computer is on the same device, but instead of utilizing a USB cable, your computer uses a special cable to connect the storage device to the Motherboard.

There are two main types of storage: Hard Drive or Solid State Drive. Their purpose is the same: long-term storage for your data. However, they are very different devices.

Hard Disk Drive

Your hard drive, or hard disk drive (HDD), is a data storage device that uses a rotating disk (called a platter) to store data. There is a moving arm with a magnetic head that reads data off of this platter. Don’t worry if this all sounds like magic — it likely is. HDD’s are considered non-volatile storage, meaning that they retain their data even when powered off.

Solid State Drive

Solid State Drives, or SSD, utilize an integrated circuit and several non-volatile chips to create a very fast, very efficient form of permanent storage for your computer. SSD’s require less power than their HDD counterparts as there are no moving pieces. Also, they are less prone to physical damage, operate silently, and are significantly faster than their HDD counterparts.


I want to take a minute and give you an analogy for how these various parts come together and work.

To begin, let’s think of your computer case as an office. Inside of this office, you have a desk that you perform your work on. This desk is similar to RAM in that you have a finite amount of space that you can work on things. You can only have so many things on your desk at one time before you run out of room. If you have a small desk (less RAM), you can work on a few things at one time but if you have a very large desk (more RAM) you can do lots of things at one time. The speed at which you are able to reference different items is like the clock speed of your RAM.

Your hard drive is like a filing cabinet where you store lots of documents. This is permanent storage for all of your files. When you want to work on a file, you have to remove it from your filing cabinet (hard drive) and place it on your desk (RAM).

Now you, the worker, are the CPU. You do all of the work and pull documents from your filing cabinet storage and place them your desk to actively work on it. You, the CPU, are only able to work on a certain number of things at once, called a clock rate.


Power Supply

The power supply is a device that converts the electricity from a wall outlet into the type of electricity that can be used by the computer. It has a single plug on the outside and distributes power through many different cables to the various components inside of your computer.

Expansion Cards

Most desktop computers (and some laptops) have expansion slots on the motherboard that allow you to add different types of expansion cards. Most functions of expansion cards are already integrated into your computer, but the expansion card gives you enhanced performance or updated capabilities. Below are some brief descriptions of various expansion cards that you may see.

Network Card (or Adapter)

Network Card

A network card allows your computer to communicate over a network to use the Internet. Network cards can either have an Ethernet port or enable your computer to use Wireless internet. Most motherboards will have integrated Ethernet capabilities, but a Network Card could be added to enable your computer to use Wireless internet. You can also find USB Wireless Network adapters that are plugged into a USB Port instead of an expansion slot on your motherboard.

Sound Card

Sound Card

A sound card can be added to your computer to give you higher-quality audio. Some sound cards also have different audio inputs or outputs to fit specific connectors.

Graphics Card

GPU

Graphics cards are probably the most widely used expansion card. Most computers have a built-in graphics processing unit (GPU) that is integrated into the Motherboard. A lot of computer games require enhanced graphics capabilities, so many individuals will install a new graphics card into an expansion slot. You can also use a graphics card in an older computer to take advantage of a newer video connector such as HDMI.

Bluetooth Card (or Adapter)

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is a new technology used for wirelessly communicating with devices over shorter distances. Many modern computer peripherals (keyboard, mouse, printer, etc.) utilize bluetooth as the communication method. As a result, bluetooth is commonly built into newer computers or included in the wireless card (if available). However, you can add a bluetooth card or USB bluetooth adapter to your computer to add this capability.

NOTE: The technical name for a USB adapter is dongle.

 


 

Thanks for joining us through these lessons. Our philosophy is that technology shouldn’t be difficult. Our goal is to help you understand technology better and educational guides like these are one way that we can help educate on the different forms of technology. If you have a suggestion for a topic for a future guide, please Contact Us.

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