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The Four Main Functions of Computers

Updated on June 6, 2017
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Alfred is a long time teacher and computer enthusiast who works with and troubleshoots a wide range of computing devices.

The four major functions of a computer actually explain the core reasons why it was built in the first place.

At the outset, a typical computer set is used to input raw data through relevant input devices. The data is then handed over to processing devices. The microprocessor is the major processing device which promptly converts the data received into useful information. This information is then disseminated via relevant output and storage media for various purposes.

Computer display is an output device
Computer display is an output device

Using a computer for example, a user can compose a letter by inputting and editing sets of letters, numbers and symbols using a keyboard. The processed input can then be viewed real time on display hardware.

Still, the user can choose to print the letter onto paper, or better still send it via electronic mail to designated reader(s).

The same data and information can then be stored digitally in specialized computer disk drive or other media for future reference.

Not to confuse functions with uses of computers - (the latter basically imply the applicability of computers), functions of computers or other devices basically, explain what they were designed for.

For example, the main function of the human leg is to aid in mobility though it can be used to climb a hill or exploitatively smash through the neighbor’s door.

In order to set the main functions of computer separate from their uses, below are some examples of computer use:

  • In the office, computers are used to analyze data
  • At school, computers are used to source for information
  • At home, computers are used for entertainment reasons

Information created in the computer can be stored onto CDs and DVD
Information created in the computer can be stored onto CDs and DVD

The Four Major Functions of Computers

  • Data entry
  • Data processing
  • Information output
  • Data and information storage

1. Data Entry

Every computer is designed with data entry as a pivotal function - before this data can be passed on to the processor for processing.

Data entry basically involves what is referred to as data input and is accomplished via input devices.

The application used in the computer will also dictate how the data is input. This can be done manually, automatically, or by a combination of the two.

Manual entry of data means the operator or technician manually inputs data via add-on peripherals.

The basic input devices include the keyboard, mouse and external storage devices.

For example, an operator will input data via the keyboard to the computer and the processor will manipulate the data for display or storage, depending on the intended needs and/or uses.

Today, data can also be input via vocal dictation applications and body gestures like Kinect and biometric devices.

Automated applications and robotics can also be used to intelligently feed data into the computer on station or remotely. As an example, tallying of an electoral process can be accomplished remotely and automatically.

A microphone can be used for data entry into the computer
A microphone can be used for data entry into the computer

2. Data Processing

Data processing is the core function and purpose of a computer system. It is the main reason why a computer is actually a computer.

The 'brain' of the computer where data is processed is referred to as the microprocessor. It is also commonly known as the central processing unit (CPU) or accelerated processing unit (APU).

An AMD microprocessor, inserted onto a socket in a laptop motherboard
An AMD microprocessor, inserted onto a socket in a laptop motherboard

It is important to note that processing units of modern personal computing devices continue to evolve and outperform its predecessors. One particular evolution is the merger of microprocessor and graphics processing unit (GPU) into what is now known as accelerated processing unit (APU). The merger allows for integration of powerful graphics processing abilities on top of traditional arithmetic and logical computations of the processor.

Computer Information relationship model
Computer Information relationship model | Source

3. Information Output

When raw data has been fed to the microprocessor for manipulation, the end result is referred to as information.

At a local level, the processed data and information can be:

  • viewed as text or video via display monitor
  • consumed as audio files
  • printed as hard copy onto paper
  • printed as 3D models

TV output on an a computer is an example of output
TV output on an a computer is an example of output

The information to be viewed on the monitor could be:

  • the text viewed could be a letter
  • a video production of a family ceremony
  • the documents to be printed could be a business report or just a letter
  • the audio output could be an mp3 file recorded and edited via relevant applications.

4. Data and Information Storage

The last and very important function of a computer is data and information storage.

A computer can store information internally and externally.

The hard disk drive (HDD) and/or solid-state disk drive (SSD) are internal storage devices and serve to protect and house all data and information within a computer. In bigger systems where data and information are extremely crucial, the RAID system is used. Multiple disk drives operate simultaneously to ensure absolute data and information integrity.

External storage is achieved through accessories that attach externally to the computer. They include external drives and optical disks.

Better still data and information can be stored online in cloud solutions for a fee.

Storage integrity is a crucial phase that can actually determine the worth of a computer system. In any case, what use is a computer without data and information?

Sample hard disk drive and optical DVD disc
Sample hard disk drive and optical DVD disc


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    • profile image

      esmiralda hope 21 months ago

      OMG that is great cant wait for the test

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 21 months ago from Kampala

      Glad that you found the info herein helpful, Hope.

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      faheem 20 months ago


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      Alvin 13 months ago

      THANK YOU!! I will cite your work =))

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 13 months ago from Kampala

      Thanks for appreciating Alvin

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      jael 9 months ago

      good information like it

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      Ratih Firdi 6 months ago from Indonesia

      thank nice article

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      Sa,ad musa muhammad 6 weeks ago

      Peace and conflict

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