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This guide will give you the rundown of all the essential hardware that makes your computer work. 

Step 1: The Motherboard

The motherboard is a big circuit that all of the components in your computer connect to. It allows communication between all of the other components. The motherboard contains very simple software called BIOS* (basic input/output system) that runs when you first turn on your computer.

BIOS is located on a ROM (read-only memory) chip on the motherboard. The first thing BIOS does is do a power on self-test. This initializes and identifies the CPU, RAM, hard drive, and other components. Then, it locates the boot loader, which is software on your hard drive or CD/DVD drive, executing it's software (programming), and then turns control over to the software on that component. Using the UI (user interface) of the BIOS, users can make fundamental changes to the system such as the time/date, password to boot the computer (optional), and boot order. You can see a screenshot of a BIOS's user interface here.


*BIOS can also be referred to as the Setup Menu. When you first turn on your computer, you might be prompted to press one of the funtion keys to go to the setup menu or boot order. Your computer automatically boots to the primary device (usually the hard drive) if neither key is pressed.


Step 2: The CPU

The CPU (central processing unit), or processor, is the "brain" of computers. It does millions to billions of calculations per second. It processes the most basic computer language, binary, consisting of 1's and 0's: on, or off. 

The CPU generates the largest amount of heat than any other component in a computer. So much, in fact, that if not cooled, it would melt though the motherboard. To undertake this cooling process, you have the heat sink and a fan along with it. The heat sink sits flush with the CPU with thermal paste in between for optimum contact. Then, the fan which sits on top of or near the heat sink pulls the heat out.

The heat sink is made out of aluminum or copper which is cooler than the processor. The gaps create a larger surface area, allowing more hot air to be drawn away from the processor. 

Step 3: The Hard Drive

The hard drive stores every bit of information on your computer: from your pictures, videos, music, and even your operating system (like Windows or Mac). For more information about how this works, look here.

Step 4: RAM

RAM (random access memory), also known just as "memory", can be described as a computer's short-term memory, the hard drive it's long term memory.

The files you "open" are temporarily stored in the RAM. So say you were editing a Word document, the stuff you are adding or deleting is being "remembered" in the RAM. If you close the document before you save it... your computer "forgets" the changes. Also, if the computer is turned off, then the RAM loses power, and anything you were doing at that time would not be saved, it would be dumped off the RAM, like your short-term memory. 

When you save the file, the information is stored on the hard drive; committing it to your computer's long-term memory.  This analogy might help you understand RAM better: If you were learning about the Vietnam War in history for the first time, and you were listening to the teacher talk, you would only keep that information in your short-term memory temporarily (like RAM). When you take notes, you can forget about what is being said, and then review your notes when you need that information later; your notes would be like the hard drive.

The more RAM you have, the faster you computer will run. This is because it will be able to handle more than one thing better. 

Step 5: Power Supply

The power supply is what distributes power to all of the parts of your computer. It also converts AC electricity from the wall to DC electricity which is utilized in the computer and most other devices such as cell phones and digital cameras; batteries carry DC electricity. There are many different connectors that go to specific components in your computer:

-P1: the main power source for the motherboard. It has 20 pins on 2 rows (10 on each row); some P1 connectors have 24 pins to provide even more power to the motherboard
-P4: provides extra power for the motherboard
-Molex connector: the molex connector goes to a number of things including some older hard drives and CD drives.
- SATA power connector: SATA is a newer power connector. It replaces the molex connector, again, providing power to the hard drive and CD/DVD drive. The SATA connector is identified by it's distinctive L shape.
-Floppy power connector: very old...it used* to power the floppy drive. Sometimes computer fans are powered by a floppy connector.


*Some people still use their floppy drives 


Step 6: Graphics Card

The graphics card generates the image that you see on your screen. The graphics card can also be referred to as the video car.

Some motherboards have a graphics card integrated into it. An integrated graphics card puts more strain on the processor because it has to do the calculations for all of the regular functions of a computer, plus the processing that the graphics require. A graphics card that is not built in (pictured) has it's own processor, therefore alleviating the processor of such a laborious task. 

The more powerful the video card is, the more intensive graphic processes it can handle. High-end graphics cards can do video editing, graphic intensive video games, and other challenging tasks that an integrated video card can not.

There are two main types of displays used: VGA (video graphics array) and DVI (digital video interface). VGA is an analog signal where as DVI is a digital signal. An analog signal uses waves to transfer data, and a digital signal uses 1's and 0's. The farther an analog signal travels, the less quality you get; you do not lose quality like this with DVI. Unfortunately, I do not have my own picture of a video card with a DVI port; but, you can see one here.

Thank you for checking out my Instructable! I hope it has helped improve your understanding of computers!

Check out my group: GEEK-TO-YOU for more!

Cheers!
Darman12
 

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Bio: The author of the GEEK-TO-YOU series: a series of Instructables designed to educate YOU about computers. I am interested in computers, and the world of ... More »
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