Get to Know Your Computer

Get to Know Your Computer

About

This article will teach you about the parts that make up your computer, what each part is used for. It also covers what to look for when you go to make a new computer purchase


Instructions

Software

Operating System

The Operating System or OS of a computer is the main software that interacts with the hardware so that you can do anything and everything that you do. There are many operating systems today, but the real well-known ones are going to be Windows, macOS, GNU/Linux (Linux), iOS, and Android. You may not have heard of Linux before, but it is quite a nifty OS. The desktop operating system that most of the world uses today is Windows, but if you look at what most servers run, its actually this hardly known Linux OS. Linux is free and open source which really separates it from Windows and macOS. 

Hardware

Motherboard

The motherboard of your computer is the main circuit board where everything is connected either directly to the motherboard or indirectly by cables. All ports connect back to the motherboard so that if you plug in a USB drive your computer will be able to connect and communicate with the data on that drive via the motherboard.  

CPU/ Processor

The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the brain of your computer. As its name implies, it processes all the operations that your computer must perform to load up a web page, edit a file, organize data, etc. Many CPUs nowadays actually come with multiple processors in one, aptly named multi-core processors. If you had a processor with 4 cores for example, it would be referred to as a 4-core processor. In addition to most modern CPUs having multiple physical processors, the individual cores can be further divided into logical processors. These divisions are called threads.  

You may have heard of GPUs (Graphics Processing Unit). These are specially designed processors with the sole purpose of executing the operations required to create what you see, the graphics on your screen. Today, people looking to build their own computer (mostly PC gamers) will need to consider whether or not they want to buy a separate GPU. Motherboards and CPUs can take care of the graphics on your screen. Most of the time it is the CPU that provides support for graphics, but not all CPUs do this, so a buyer must be wary of the specifications.  

Another thing people talk about with CPUs is their processing speed which is measured in gigahertz per second (GHz). Typically, a higher measurement of GHz means a faster processor, but there are many other factors that come into play.  

RAM

Random Access Memory (RAM) is your computer's short-term memory. Your hard drive, or more modern solid-state drive (SSD) is your computer's long-term memory and main storage device. When a computer powers on, the RAM starts to fill up and get used, but when the computer shuts down, everything in the RAM is wiped away. This is the main difference between RAM and storage drives and why RAM is often referred to as the computer's short-term memory. 

RAM is vital to a system and without enough RAM for all the applications you run, your computer will likely become unusably slow. Picture a doctors' office. Although everything is moving online, this doctors' office is a little behind and still has files stored in cabinets or on shelves. Those cabinets and shelves are your storage devices/drives. When the doctor needs to see a patient, take down notes on their progress and add things to their patient file, the file is taken from the filing storage and opened on a desk. Your RAM is the desk environment in which your applications are taken into from your storage devices. When a desk is clean and there are not many files open or papers lying around, it is easy to find what you have out and use it, but when a desk has a bunch of files and papers on it, things become crowded, and you take longer to find what you need. RAM is the same way just with a slight difference. If you have enough RAM, your machine will operate as normal no matter how many things you open out onto your metaphorical desk. But the moment your RAM is not enough for the files and applications you have open your computer starts to lag like crazy.  

The typical user in today's world needs at least 8Gb of RAM. Someone who runs more graphics intensive applications like games or photo and video editing software may want 16Gb. Anything more than that is reserved for the very few who really push their computers to extremes.  

Hard Drive

Hard drives are the storage space of your computer, the long-term memory, the place where everything is kept. Hard Drives most commonly refer to an older type of storage device which is partially mechanical. A much, much faster storage device has been adopted in most modern machines called a Solid-State Drive, or SSD. Despite this newer type of storage device being much faster, many Hard Drives are still in use today because the cost to create a drive that will hold say 500 Gb is much cheaper if you go the HD route over the SSD route.  

PSU/ Power Supply

The Power Supply Unit (PSU) is the part inside your computer that transforms the power from a wall outlet into power that your computer can use. Laptops do not have PSUs - instead, they have batteries that are charged by a separate cable and power adapter connected to a wall outlet.  

Network Card

Some motherboards come with built-in network hardware, some do not. When they don’t, it is particularly important to get a Network Interface Controller (NIC) if you ever plan to connect to Wi-Fi. 

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