Basic Computer Parts Explained

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Most people just call everything that came in the box “the computer.” But if you’re looking for some more advanced vocabulary, we’ve outlined the definitions for basic computer parts here:

The Monitor

The monitor is the screen – it’s what you look at most of the time, and many people refer to this as their computer. But in fact the monitor doesn’t do any of the computing. It just shows you what’s going on inside your computer.

The Tower

The actual computing goes on in the box your monitor is attached to. Many people refer to this as the “tower,” and it is the case for your computer. Inside this case is where the magic happens.

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The Processor

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The CPU is the Central Processing Unit. The CPU is a four-square-inch chip inside your computer that has millions of transistors, each of which can perform a mathematical operation. This is the “thinking part” of your computer, and it’s where the power of your computer comes from. But it can’t store anything – it can think about one thing, and then it moves onto the next. The faster your computer, and the more cores it has, the more things it can do at the same time – like streaming music and playing a game.

The Memory

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Before and after something is thought about, it sits in the memory. The memory is part of the RAM, which are sticks inserted in the motherboard. The memory contains everything your computer is thinking about, but doesn’t change the information at all. It’s just the holding spot for it. The more memory your computer has, the more programs it can have open at the same time.

The Hard Drive

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Everything that your computer “knows” but isn’t “thinking about” is stored on the Hard Drive Disk (HDD). The hard drive disk is permanent storage. It holds the same type of information as memory/RAM, but it’s a lot slower to access. Think of it like the freezer on your refrigerator. Store things on the hard drive for a long time, but not if you want to do anything with them. Move them into the refrigerator/RAM when you’re ready to do something with them. Then move them into the (food)processor to work with them, and back into the refrigerator for leftovers, freezer for long-term storage.

The Video Card

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The Graphics Processing Unit (GPU or “video card”) handles everything that goes to your monitor. If you’re watching a high definition video or playing a video game, your CPU will send that information to your GPU, which is made specifically for processing graphics. A more powerful video card won’t speed up your computer for word processing, but will fix video playback stuttering or freezing.

The Router

Your modem or router isn’t a part of your computer, but it acts as a gateway to the Internet. In the same way that high-voltage power needs to be transformed from cross-country power lines to be used in a house, the Internet needs a filter before the average user can do anything with it. There are a lot of different way to get Internet access: cable, DSL, fiber, or satellite. Your modem or router takes the raw signal and converts it into a standard format for access by your computer.

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