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Essential computer hardware

Updated on June 3, 2009

Essential Computer Hardware

Essential Computer Hardware

Hardware is the term given to the components that make up a computer. This term was derived from the internal components of a computer which consists circuits, electronics, and in short anything that you could touch inside your computer.

When I speak of a computer, it includes the monitor and the casing (the box where the mystery lies). As a matter of fact, that box stores the processing unit, the memory chips, the motherboard, hard disk, power supply, graphics card, dvd drive and so on.

Hardware is the term which encapsulates all these internal workings within that box and also the monitor. Oh, did I forget - keyboard, mouse, speakers are also hardware.

Now hardware can be broken up into four parts:

  • Processor
  • Memory
  • Input and Output (I/O)
  • Storage

Processing Devices/Processor
The processor is the most important piece of hardware within your computer. It is the brain, the very intellect of these electronic machines.

The processor, decodes and executes instructions that are sent to in via the many lanes within the motherboard. I will talk about this in another article and explain to you the different highways inside the computer.

Anyway, back to processor now. There are two major brands of processors in the world currently: Intel and AMD. Both types of processors are widely used in personal computers and servers.

Other types of processors exist such as the ARM processor for mobile phones.

Each processor has its own unique set of instructions meaning its own set of language that it understands and this architecture varies from processor to processor. Normally, a body regulates the instructions of common processors to ensure that the software that you use - such as Firefox or Internet explorer can be executed by the processor.

On a personal computer, the processor is usually a single chip or a set of chips on top on a circuit board. In some powerful computers, such as the super computers, they consists of many chips on a circuit board. Now in general, these chips are referenced to as central processing unit (CPU).

CPU as what is commonly known today is the box that houses your hardware. However, contrary to popular belief, it is actually the central processing unit or the microprocessor housed within that box which lies on the motherboard.

For those of you who may have not seen a motherboard, it is the board that is full of capacitors, slots, circuits and small embedded chips. It is the master circuit. The circuit that controls the way data flows in your computer.

There are two types of memory that are very common. Actually, only one is very common the - RAM or also known as the random access memory because of it is a static memory.

Static memories are memories that do not store data always (as soon as you switch off the computer) - the memory becomes empty or resets itself.

RAM chips provides the communication link between the central processing unit and the storage device. Every software that you use - for instance your internet browser is loaded on to the memory. The CPU then reads the RAM for the instructions - in binary digits and then does the calculation and executes them by writing back on to the RAM.

To explain this process in detail would require us to look into the purpose of memory in a computer and how it stores programs. A memory can be viewed as many postal boxes with fixed length and size where addresses to the location of programs or processes are stored in a hexadecimal manner.

I will not go into detail about the memory because we do not need to delve that deep to understand the simple concepts about it.

The memory is mainly used to store something temporarily so that the CPU can process that data and pass it back or allow the proper functions to be executed.

There is also a cache memory which is the fastest memory in the computer and this is within the CPU itself. It stores memory that is most frequently accessed by the processor.

Compared to the early days of computers, memory has come a long way - I think it is around 4GB now the maximum. I maybe wrong here.

Dynamic memory or volatile memory stores data that is fixed and does not go off even if the computer is switch off. This is read only memory (ROM) which stores critical boot up information of the computer. An example is the BIOS chip which stores a ROM to ensure that it has the proper instructions needed for the computer to operate. This chip allows the computer to start up and provides information on its hardware devices.

Input and Output devices
These devices are known as input and output or shortly (I/O) because their purpose is to provide either input into the computer system or to provide an output from the computer system.

Typical I/O hardware devices are

  • Monitor
  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • Speakers
  • Microphone
  • Modem
  • Webcam
  • Headphones
  • Printers
  • Fax Machines
  • Joystick
  • Scanner
  • Touchpad

These are devices or hardware that you use on your day to day basis when interacting with the computer. Imagine what it would be like if you did not have the above devices.

There would be no means to communicate with the computer. Then maybe you might have to hotwire to send the digital signals into the specific ports for the computer to work. Still, without a monitor or projector you would not be able to view anything.

So as you see, the input and output devices are very important and are essential if you own a computer. The difference between an input device and an output device is such that an input device is used to send instructions to the computer and an output device outputs the executed instruction.

For instance, the keyboard is an input device. Whatever you type is converted into digital signals in the form of binary (1s and 0s) and then decoded by the processing unit before being executed into the software that your are using where the words are required.

Now, we do not see this process happening because it is too fast (nanoseconds) therefore we do not realize because as we type we see the words that we have typed out. There is no delay.

Storage devices

Storage devices are also known as magnetic storage devices because of the nature of these storage devices. This is the disk drive or the hard disk as it is commonly known.

Within these disks are read/write heads like a tiny pin (think of it like the gramaphone that used to play music those days) this pin or head is used to read or write data into the disk.

The disk is broken up into many sectors and these sectors house the data such as the music files, or programs inside your computer. They act as a cabinet or a filing system where all the data is stored in its raw form.

I would love to explain further about storage devices but then again, it is much more complicated then you think it is. Essentially, it works like an electromagnet which can either pass in electricity or not and this can be represented by two states read or write or (1 or 0). Like I mentioned, that is the only thing the computer understands - binary.

There are also other types of storage devices such as optical storage devices. These devices comprises of your DVD-Roms, CD-Roms, VCD, and so on.

If you happen to have either a CD-Rewritable (CD-RW) or DVD-RW(DVD-Rewritable) drive then you may be able to store data into optical devices such as CD-Roms and the others I mentioned above.

You can do that by burning (literally) data into those discs using the specific softwares that are provided such as Nero Burning and many other that are out there today.

Something that is very common and is really being revolutionised are USB keys or Thumbdrives which keep to be growing in storage size but not actually its physical size.

You can now carry around so much of data inside your pocket and it is so much more smaller it hardly even takes up space. I remember those days, when the best storage device was a 3.5in floppy which was really big, and before that, the punch cards - it is funny how things change so quickly.

Well you see, the hardware is useless without the proper software that enables the computer to perform specific tasks. A computer is really powerful, but not without the software.

Now, that is another article altogether - so I hope you enjoyed this one. I am really enjoying writing these articles for all of you.

Have a nice day then! :-)

a motherboard
a motherboard


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      alwekewom 4 years ago

      very parfect

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      for clarification contact

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      swaroop 5 years ago

      Your absolutely wrong in memory......

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