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PC Hardware

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Basic Computer Hardware Information

This is a very short course about computers. It won't make you into a computer technician, but it will let you talk to one without thinking they are speaking a foreign language. The computers we are interested in are the general-purpose personal computers like we use at our desk, rather than the specialized computer under the hood of your car, or the big mainframe computers that the IRS uses to keep track of us all.

For our purposes, a computer can be defined as a machine for processing and storing information electronically. To be useful, it must have a way for us to get information into the machine, and some way to get it out afterwards so we can see it. Therefore, a computer has four basic functions:

1. Input
2. Processing
3. Storage
4. Output

Every part of a computer system, and everything it does, is connected to one or more of these basic functions. Computers can seem complex because there are many ways of doing each of these functions, and because everything has a new name, often made up of what appear to be nonsense initials like RAM or CPU.

To keep it simple, first look up any word or technical term you don't understand. There is a glossary at the back of this course pack with definitions for all the technical terms we use here or that you are likely to hear in talking to technicians. Second, when you encounter any part of a computer for the first time, find out which of these four functions it is used for.


The most obvious device for getting information (also called data) into a computer system is the keyboard. Another common input device is the mouse. Almost any time we use a computer we use one or both of these to get text data or instructions into the system. To get large amounts of information into the computer we would probably use a CD (compact disc), a floppy diskette, a modem connected to a phone line, or a network card connected to a network.

With the right sound equipment, a microphone or musical instrument can be used to bring in sound, and a digital camera can download visual information, so these are all being used as input.


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