Basic Computer Parts Explained
If you’re new to computers, (or even if you’re not and you just don’t have much interest in tech details!) you probably refer to all your computer components collectively, as “a computer.”
The screen, the keyboard, the big boxy thing with all its magical techno-innards; they all get lumped into that big general and fuzzy term, “computer.” And, you know what? For the most part, this is perfectly fine! People will know what you mean.
Occasionally, though, it can help to get a little more specific. For example, if something is going wrong with your technology, it’s helpful to know the names of individual components in order to better describe the problems you’re encountering.
Let’s run you through the individual parts of a computer. We’ll describe what each part of your computer does, what it looks like and where you’ll find it.
Let’s start with possibly the easiest part of a computer to recognize — the monitor.
The monitor is the screen you spend the vast majority of your time looking at while you’re using your computer.
It’s important to understand here that your monitor’s one and only role is to display the data it receives from your computer. It doesn’t “do” any of the computing itself. It simply displays the data for you.
If you own a desktop PC, it’s likely the various parts of your computer are housed neatly in a tidy vertical case, known as a tower.
A tower is basically a hard protective case for your computer’s various components. It will typically have an on switch on the front, along with several ports you can use to plug in a variety of cables (which is a whole separate topic in itself).
Again, you probably need to understand that your tower isn’t one big lump of technology. It’s simply a protective casing surrounding various components which, when combined, make up your computer.
The Central Processing Unit (usually referred to as the CPU) a four-square-inch chip inside your computer that has millions of transistors, each of which can perform a mathematical operation.
The CPU is the Central Processing Unit. Your computer’s CPU is pretty much the brain of your computer. It’s the part of your computer which does the “thinking,” in the form of millions of calculations every second. These days, CPUs are actually made up of a number of “cores” which can work together.
Generally speaking, the more powerful your CPU and the more cores it has, the faster your computer will perform.
While your computer’s CPU is fast, it doesn’t store data. This is where your computer’s memory comes into play.
There are two parts of your computer which are responsible for memory. Let’s look at random access memory (or RAM) first.
RAM is a small stick of plastic circuitry with a number of contacts along one edge. It plugs directly into your computer’s motherboard (the big base of circuitry which all the other parts of a computer plug into).
Your computer’s RAM is a bit like your own short-term memory. It contains everything a computer is thinking about right now. It’s a holding spot for the most relevant and useful information a computer needs in any given moment.
The Hard Drive
The hard disk drive (HDD), on the other hand, is the part of your computer responsible for “long-term” memory.
Hard drives use magnetic storage to write data “persistently.” By persistent, we mean that if you turn your computer off, the data will still be stored on the hard drive and ready to access once you power it back on.
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
The Graphics Processing Unit (GPU or “video card”) handles everything that goes to your monitor.
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.
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 is a lot of different ways 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.
While there are many more small components inside your computer, if you at least know what these parts of a computer are, you’re in a good position to understand your computer’s basic workings. And of course, if you have any questions, you can always call a friendly nerd at 800-919-6373.
Nerd Note: If you ever need one of these computer parts repaired, visit our Nerds On Call Computer Repair Sacramento shop!
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