Overview Of Personal Computer Components
There are several
main components that comprise the total cost of a system. Familiarizing
yourself with the concepts in this section will build confidence in
knowing you'll be able to understand the technical jargon a computer
salesman will throw out at you when shopping for your computer.
Overview Of Data
One of the fundamental concepts to understand about personal computers is data.
Data is simply a piece of information inputted into a computer by the end user. Data is only usable if some action such as a calculation can be performed on it. PC's are what is known as data processors. They process data and output it into a format that can be deciphered by the average human. Data passes through busses. A bus is simply a pathway or lane on a mainboard in which data can travel. Data travels through busses just like cars travel through lanes on a highway.
signals that we use to communicate are in an analog form. It can come
in a number of varieties including letters, numbers, sounds, graphics,
photos, and full motion video. All of these data elements are in an
analogue state meaning they are all different in their type. They are
all unusable in a PC until converted into a digital form that the
computer can understand. Data can only be processed by a personal
computer if it is in a digital form. For example, if you're using a
computer to backup your tape or LP collection and because tapes are an
analogous type of media there needs to be some conversion done to put
the data in a digital form that a computer can understand.
The personal computer is an electronic unit and, therefore, can deal only with data that is in a digital form or data that is associated with electricity. Once converted from an analog format into a digital format, the computer is ready to process that information. This process is completed using electronic switches labeled appropriately on or off, similar to a light bulb. The computer interprets these on and off switches digitally using 1’s and 0’s. For a computer, a light switch turned off has the value 0 and the same light switched turned on is interpreted as 1 by the computer. Various combinations of 1’s and 0’s are used to interpret various letters and numbers in a computer.
example would be backing up a CD or DVD. Since this kind of information
is digital in nature, computers are already able to understand the data
contained within the particular CD or DVD and conversion of the data is
Data travels at lightning fast speeds and must always pass through the mainboard via busses. Busses are kind of like lanes on a highway. All you need to know about data is that there must exist someway A bus is simply a pathway in which data can flow through. Busses are a lot like lanes on the highway.
The Central Processing Unit (CPU)
The Central Processing Unit, also known as CPU or processor, is a very small microchip that can be referred to as the brains of the computer system. When thinking about the main responsibilities of the CPU think about the primary role of the human brain. The human brain is responsible for taking in and comprehending information. The CPU takes in and comprehends data inputted by the user. This information is processed by the CPU and then transferred to different components in the system for further processing. Once the data has finished being processed, the results are displayed as output on your computer monitor.
Another way of thinking about the primary role of the CPU is to remember that the computer's thinking is controlled by the CPU. When deciding on the kind of CPU you want for your system, faster is always better because the faster the CPU speed the faster it can think and comprehend. It is also important to note that the CPU is also the most expensive component in any personal computer so it's always wise to take the time and research what processor is included in any system you plan on buying.
The CPU is responsible for controlling how data is calculated and as a result one of the primary responsibilities of the CPU is to facilitate the flow of data between devices inside the system. The faster the CPU can think, the faster it can move data.
The speed at which a processor thinks is typically measured in megahertz (in older machines the abbreviated format is Mhz), and gigahertz (in newer machines the abbreviated format is referred to as Ghz). This is simply referred to as how fast the CPU can process data. The higher the Mhz or Ghz frequency, the faster the CPU can complete its job, and the faster your applications will run. The majority of new systems sold by manufacturers are equipped with a CPU running with at least a 2.4 Ghz or higher frequency.
Additionally, the CPU has bult in memory soldered directly into the microchip itself. This kind of memory is referred to as primary and secondary cache memory and is normally the fastest kind of memory available in a computer. This memory is basically short term memory for the CPU and is a temporary housing unit for the CPU to swap data while it completes calcuations and number crunching. A standard Pentium IV based processor has 512 kilobytes of primary cache memory, and approximately 16 KB of secondary cache memory, while newer Pentium IV processors are equipped with four times that amount. Celeron processors are equipped with 128 KB of secondary cache memory and as a result functions at a much lower capacity than a true Pentium IV processor.
The motherboard (a.k.a mainboard) is the central nervous system of a computer. A mainboard is the building block behind any PC thus choosing a sophisticated mainboard will allow for more expandability in the future. It's the motherboard that determines what you can do with a computer. The mainboard in a computer controls how devices interact as well as what devices can be added or upgraded into a system.
You can think of the mainboard as a foundation of a major highway in a
city. The entire metal board where everything plugs in can be
considered the highway. Vehicles are a lot like the data that pass
through lanes. These techincial term for these lanes is data busses. A
bus is a pathway in which data can travel to and from other components
in the computer. Quite often the lanes on a highway will get backlogged
with cars forcing a traffic jam, the equivalent computing term is
There are several things to look for when deciding on the kind of motherboard you want to use for your system. If you are buying a system already built then you are pretty limited in terms of what the manufacturer uses for a mainboard. If you are wanting to build your own system then you have more breathing room in choosing high end components that will provide better performance.
Listed below is a summary of what you need to look for when shopping around for a mainboard:
- CPU Support
- Memory Support
- Type Of Chipset Used
- High Speed Data Transfer Support
In addition the the list shown above also ensure the mainboard supports the following:
- Support for high-speed USB 2.0 devices. USB 2.0 is much faster than
USB 1.1 (the old standard). Most USB devices now are USB 2.0 compliant.
There may be software updates or service packs available for a an
operating system that provides USB 2.0 support, but that's only if you
are running an old version of Windows such as 98 Second Edition.
- Support for SATA (Serial ATA) Hard Drives. SATA is not a new technology. It's been around for a while now and will eventually replace the IDE standard. The primary benefit of SATA drives is the speed at which they can access and process data on the drive. Additionally, since the data cables used to connect a SATA hard drive to the mainboard are less bulky, the devices permit better airflow internally within a chassis.
Price is always a factor when determining the type of motherboard to use. You willl need to answer this question: should I buy a cheap motherboard with no room for expansion, or should I invest more money and get a high end mainboard that will support newer technologies.
You should look a paying anywhere between $100 and $200 for a high performance mainboard. All the standard features should be apparent in any new motherboard including but not limited to the following:
A standard hard drive using the EIDE interface spins at 7200 Rotations Per Minute (RPM); SATA drives rotate at 10,000 RPM, obviously improving the time required to access data on the drive. SATA drives are ideal for applications that require a high level of interaction with files on a hard disk, such as digital video editing.
Choosing A Mainboard
There are two kinds of mainboards that you will normally be introduced
to when shopping for an office
PC: integrated mainboards
PC non-integrated mainboards.
Integrated mainboards are fully loaded boards that have peripherals soldered directly into the mainboard. Such items include a network card, modem, sound card, USB controllers, and possibly a video card. The drawback behind these fully loaded boards is that they don't neccessarily support high end processors and lack support for Serial ATA and Firewire connections, as well as other high performance interfaces.
Computer systems built with an integrated mainboard are not the best solution if you need to upgrade the system at a later time, or if you want to push more juice through the system. They are, however, perfect mainboards used in starter computers or for people that do not want all the bells and whistles offered in some non-integrated mainboards.
A non-integrated mainboard is the best solution if you want to fully customize your personal computer with higher end expansion boards and other components. Bear in mind that if you do specify this kind of mainboard in your setup, the price of the overall system will be far greater than one that includes a non-integrated mainboard.
Similar to a human brain, computers need memory to remember things including where files are placed in a system, where data should go after the CPU does any number calculations and how how data should be stored before it is sent to your computer's display. Like a human brain has short-term memory and long-term memory, a computer system also has these two classifcations of memory. Short term memory is referrerd to as Random Access Memory (RAM), while long term memory is known as Read Only Memory (ROM). Examples of RAM include system memory as well as primary and secondary cache memory. ROM is memory that won't lose its contents when the machine is powered off. Basic Input Output System (BIOS) settings are stored in a ROM memory chip.
The speed at which memory can run is measured in megahertz or cycles per second. The faster the memory the quicker components can access data. When shopping around for a computer system you may here a salesman say "this system has 256 megabytes of DDR-RAM." What he is referring to is the amount of memory that can be used to store data within the machine while it is turned on. One kilobyte is one thousand bytes, one megabyte is the equivalent of one million bytes and one gigabyte is rougly equal to one billion bytes. So if you were to purchase a system equipped with 256 MB of memory you have enough RAM to store 256,000 bytes of data. Leading edge software applications rarely use anything more than 100 MB of system memory.
All you really need to be concered with at this point is to ensure the system you are purchasing is equipped with enough memory for what you need to do.
Most video cards conform themselves to a video standard which defines the maximum resolution and colors it can display. The monitor must be able to show the resolution and colors defined by the standard, and the video card must be capable of transmitting the appropriate signals to the monitor.
There are two types of interfaces in a which a PC's video system can be connected. They are Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) and Accelertated Graphics Port (AGP).
PCI is an older technology and new video cards are not manufactured using the old PCI specifications. They are, however, manufactured with a faster version of PCI entitled PCI Express (PCI-E). The AGP format is far less expensive than PCI-E yet also a low slower.
Input / Output Ports and Connectors
You should be familiar with the basic hardware components that are normally included on all mainboads. Here is a listing of all standard features included with all integrated and non-integrated mainboards:
PS2 Mouse and Keyboard Ports.
PS2 is the standard connection type for attaching a keyboard and mouse to the system. Normally there is one mouse port and one keyboard on all mainboards. These kinds of ports are found on all new mainboards.
These kinds of ports usually provide a method for connecting serial
devices to the computer such as external dialup modems and personal
digital assistants. These kinds of ports are standard on all new
mainboads, but will eventually be completely replaced by the Universal
This port on a
mainboad usually provides a method for connecting a printer or flatbed
scanner to the computer system. This kind of port is commom on all
These types of ports on a mainboad provide fast connections to USB enabled devices including digital cameras, webcams, scanners, printers, and MP3 players. Normally most mainboards provide you with at least four USB connectors but more expensive mainboards provide up to an additional four ports by connecting a USB A-type male to USB A-type female pass-through cable directly to a front panel USB connector housed in a 5.25" drive bay.
Onboard Sound Card.
Onboard sound cards are normally found on integrated mainboards and are less powerful than external sound cards but typically conform to the latest sound card technologies. Onboard sound cards normally utilize the Perhipheral Component Interconnect (PCI) chipset.
Onboard Video Card
Onboad video cards are normally found on integrated mainboards and are less powerful than external video cards but typically conform to the latest video card technologies. Ensure that if you purchase a mainboard with an onboard video connection that the video card supports the lastest Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) standard and has at least sixty four megabytes or more of video memory on the card itself.
Onboard Network Interface Card
Onboard network interface cards also known as Ethernet controllers are normally found on integrated mainboards and comply with the latest networking standards enabling high speed connections to Internet providers and local area networks.
Warranties and Extended Warranty Plans
Introductions And Overviews
When you purchase a new setup from a large scale manufacturer or retail chain store such as Future Shop, Business Depot, or Best Buy you can rest assured that you are getting brand name components included in the system. If any of these components fail to function properly then you can contact the store or manufacturer that you have purchased the system from to have them honour your warranty. However, if for the warranty for your particular system has expired, you're of on your own to consult a computer technician that will be able to fix the malfunctioning components.
This brings us into a look at extended warranty plans. When you are considering purchasing a setup from a large scale manufacturer, you will want to consider obtaining an extended warranty plan with the manufacturer. An extended warranty plan will guarentee your system can be replaced or repaired over a longer period of time. Most extended warranties last for up to three years, but some businesses offer extended warranties which are different based on the manufacturer's policies. In case something goes wrong with your system and you are not covered by the standard warranty that you have received when you originally purchased the system. The warranty you get on a refurbished system would be covered by the business that sold you the system. Quite often these warranties last for only three to six months. After that period, if something goes wrong with the system, you are on your own to fix the problem, or have somebody technical to fix it for you. Of course additional fees will be applied if you have to have the system repaired by a trained technician. If you are purchasing a brand new system chances are that you would get a warranty the covers the the whole computer, not just specific parts of the computer. If you are building your own computer and buying parts individually you would normally get a full manufacturer's warranty for the particular device you have purchased.
Most manufacturer's offer a lifetime warranty on new memory chips, and
anywhere between one and three years for a new hard drive. The benefit
of having an extended warranty plan with your computer's manufacturer
is that if anything goes wrong with the system you can simply send it
back to the manufacturer and they will either replace the
malfunctioning parts or send you out an entirely new system. Typically
when building your own computer, you get a manufacturer's warranty with
the parts that you plan to purchase as well, but it is up to you to get
the parts working properly in your system and if you need assistance
configuring any component, you need to contact the manufacturer of the
particular device yourself for assistance.
End of guide.