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PC Hardware Cont.............

Monday, December 29, 2008


In addition to the I/O ports mentioned in the last section which are really addresses, there are physical connections on the back of the computer that are also called ports, and various devices connect to the computer through cables attached to these ports. One of these connections is called the Serial Port because data goes over a single signal line as a series of bits, one right after the other. Serial port connectors have either 9 or 25 pins, with the male connector on the back of the computer and a female connector on the cable. The 9-pin version is more common, and is often used to connect a mouse if there is not a separate mouse connection.

Another connection is called the Parallel Port because its cable has 8 parallel signal lines to transmit 8 bits at a time. The computer has a 25-pin female connector on the back, so it won’t be confused with the 25-pin male serial connector. The parallel port is most often used to connect a printer. Computers sold in the last few years will probably also have a connection called USB, for Universal Serial Bus. It is a bus because several devices can be connected on the same cable, but it’s also a port because data goes into and out of the computer cabinet through its connector. There is USB1 and USB2. USB2 is newer and much faster.


As we mentioned earlier, the computer knows what to do by taking instructions from programs stored in RAM. The main instructions come from a program called the operating system, and those instructions direct traffic for other programs called applications.

When the computer is turned off, all the instructions copied into the RAM are gone. When the system is turned on again, it needs to go out to the disk, get the operating system and load it into RAM, but there are no instructions in the RAM to tell it how to do this. The solution to this problem is a set of instructions that stay in memory and don’t get lost when the computer is turned off.

This set of instructions is called the BIOS, for Basic Input Output System. Since the instructions don’t need to change, they can be stored in a different kind of chip than we use for RAM. It’s called ROM, for Read Only Memory. We say that the instructions in the BIOS are hard-wired, and instead of software they are called firmware.

The computer goes through a process called booting up when it is first turned on. This involves executing the BIOS instructions, loading the operating system from disk into RAM, and then turning control of the computer over to the operating system after everything checks out OK. The term refers to somebody pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps (without outside help, in other words). Any computer term that includes ‘boot’ will have something to do with this start-up process.


There is other start-up information that normally stays the same but that we might want to change once in a while. This includes info about the various pieces of hardware connected to the system, which disk drive to check first for the operating system and that sort of thing. This data can’t be stored on the hard drive because we need it to boot up. It can’t be stored in RAM because it will be lost at power-off, and it can’t be stored in the BIOS because we might need to change it.

The problem is solved by a type of RAM chip that uses very low power, and it is connected to a battery. This type of low-power memory chip is called CMOS. It stands for the type of technology used in the chip, which is Complementary Metal Oxide Substrate. This is probably more than you need to know, but I’m a fanatic about defining things. By the way, since batteries don’t last forever, if you leave your computer unplugged for about 5 years you’ll find it needs a bit of trickery to get it to boot again, because the CMOS information will be gone.

There is another feature in the computer that has the same requirements as CMOS, and that is the date and time function. This obviously needs to change very minute, but we don’t want to lose track when the computer is turned off. The circuitry for this is called the RTC or Real Time Clock, and for convenience it is usually included in the same chip with the CMOS. A little trickle of juice from the CMOS battery keeps the clock running, and when you turn the computer on again it knows exactly what time and day it is. Convenient, isn’t it?


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