Computer Hardware Basics

In an age where computers are being used for everything ranging from communication to cooking and from entertainment to education, you simply cannot afford to remain ignorant about computer technology any more. Change is inevitable. Times change, situations change and so do we. Updating our knowledge and skills is a must if we wish to keep up with the world. On that note, here are some computer hardware basics to welcome you into the wonderful world of computers.

Computer Hardware Basics for Beginners
Since this article is aimed at introducing you to computer hardware basics, I will stick to the 'basics' rather than bombard you with high level technical stuff. A typical computer system has 2 very basic components:
  1. CPU (central processing unit)
  2. monitor.
Of course, in order to actually be able to use the computer you need an input device such as a computer keyboard or a computer mouse. Other devices such as joysticks, game pads, game controllers, etc. also fall into the category of input devices. The monitor is nothing but an output device (or a display device) whose purpose is to display all the information to the user. Computer monitors can be categorized as:
  1. CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors
  2. flat screen monitors.
CRT monitors are the box-like monitors that have been around since the last 10-15 years. Flat screen monitors are relatively new and they too, are of 2 types namely, plasma monitors and LCD monitors. The CPU is the actual 'computer' i.e., it is the component that is responsible for the actual computing that takes place (unlike in movies where a 'computer' in most cases, is shown to be a monitor!). The CPU consists of the following components:
  • hard drive
  • motherboard
  • RAM chip
  • processor
  • video card
  • graphics card
  • sound card
  • processor and cabinet fans
  • USB ports
  • LAN card
  • CD/DVD drive
  • floppy disk drive
  • cables
Let us have a look at all these components one by one.

Hard Drive: It is also referred to as a secondary storage device. In simple terms, it is the place where all of your documents, spreadsheets, pictures, music files, videos, etc. are stored. Hard drives can be internal as well as external. Internal hard drives are housed within the computer cabinet whereas external ones are detachable and are connected through a USB port using an external power source. Today, hard drives are available in capacities of up to 2 TB i.e. a whopping 2,048,000 megabytes of storage space!

Motherboard: A computer motherboard is a square-shaped board that houses all major components such as the RAM chips, PCI slots, processor, batteries, sound cards, video cards, USB ports and all other internal circuitry. Motherboards are available in different hardware configurations and designs.

RAM: What is computer RAM? Well, RAM, which is an acronym for Random Access Memory, is the primary storage device of your computer. Although all your software applications are installed and stored in your hard drive, each one of them needs to make use of the RAM when it is being used. More the number or the size of the applications being run, greater is the RAM requirement of your computer.

Processor: This is the actual brain of your computer. Today, processors are available in many brands and multiple processing capacities. Intel's Pentium series of processors along with the AMD line of processors happen to be some of the most popular processors in today's market.

Cards: These mainly include video cards, sound cards, graphics cards, etc. all of which are installed on the motherboard in their respective slots. They are mainly required for running multimedia applications involving video, audio and graphical images. LAN (Local Area Network) cards and network cards are necessary for computer networking, i.e. connecting your computer to a local network or to the Internet.

Fans: Most computer cabinets make use of at least two fans - a processor fan and a cabinet fan. Their main purpose is to lower the internal temperature and keep the processing components as cool as possible.

USB Ports: USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports in simple terms, are the ports which we use for connecting our MP3 players, digital cameras, flash drives, etc. to our computer. Today, most computers come with a minimum of 4 USB ports although certain high end machines can have up to 8 or even 10 USB ports.

CD/DVD Drives: If you wish to run any type of CD or DVD on your computer, installing a CD drive or a DVD drive is a must. There are different types of CD/DVD drives available, each offering the user a variety of features and options.

Floppy Drives: Once a common part of each and every desktop computer, very rarely does one find floppy drives in today's computers. However, there are a few situations where using a floppy drive becomes inevitable (and I vouch for that) hence mentioning them in this list becomes necessary.

Cables: Last but not the least, the connecting cables. Internal cables which are used to connect the hard drive, CD/DVD drive, floppy drive, etc. are of two types - a data cable and a power cable. Each one has a different physical structure and a different function. If you are a newcomer to computers, you should always refer to the computer manual while going about connecting the different cables.

These were some computer hardware basics which were aimed at introducing you to the basic hardware components of a computer. Though most of these components are constantly being upgraded thanks to rapid technological advances, their fundamental concept nevertheless, continues to remain the same.

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