Unit 11: Computer Hardware Components

Listen to the recording as you read the text. Then complete the activities.

Due to convergence, the traditional categories we divide computing into are blurring. But for practical reasons, IT professionals can still divide hardware into two main classes: components and peripherals.

Components are primarily core internal devices of a computer which help define what type a computer is, what it is capable of doing, and how well it is capable of doing it. Nothing affects the overall quality of a computer more than its components.

Normally the more expensive a component is, the better it performs. This is a general guideline however and not a steadfast rule. Sometimes you can spend a lot more money on a component with only slightly better performance than one costing half as much. Other times a very expensive component might be based on a completely new technology that is not ready for mass production. In these cases, one is often better off buying a more mainstream part.

Being an early adopter is not always the most practical move when speccing components for a new system. Often you can find very powerful hardware at the medium price ranges. There is normally a relatively large sweet-spot in the market.

How can you know if a component is good or bad? You want to be an IT professional, right? IT professionals need good computers without performance bottlenecks. So do some research. Read articles about components on a website. Where do you find them? Just Google it!

One of my favorite places for objective customer reviews of components is Tom's Hardware Guide. Another place for objective information is on well-known websites such as Amazon.com or NewEgg.com. On sites like these, customers will often write both positive and negative reviews shortly after receiving their products. This can help you decide what to buy!

Imagine you want to build your own computer. It's not that difficult or expensive really. I personally think it's kind of fun, How would you start? If you are experienced, you would start by choosing the components first! Components must be compatible with each other in order to function correctly. For example not all processors are compatible with all motherboards. Research is necessary to solve your dependencies.

If you can't afford the exact parts you want to get all at the same time, you can use old parts or buy cheaper parts at first if you have to. Why? Because certain components can be upgraded to attain increased performance. For example, a video card (or graphics card) can be upgraded to improve the graphics for a CAD/CAM application or 3D gaming experience.

At the heart of the computer lies several key components sitting on the motherboard including the microprocessor, the chipset, RAM and a ROM firmware instruction set called the BIOS. These core components are connected by several "buses" made to carry information around the system and eventually out to display devices and other peripherals.

The CPU is another name for the 'brain' of the computer and normally includes the microprocessor and RAM. This is what does all the calculations. One or more coprocessors may or may not be needed depending on what the computer is used for. In the 20th century, coprocessors were often used for mathematics such as floating point operations. Today however coprocessors are mostly used for 3D graphics (GPUs), sound generation, and physics applications.

As you probably learned in an earlier chapter, RAM is the memory which allows your computer to hold the operating system and all running programs while your computer is in use. On the contrary, ROM is a kind of permanent memory which is still in tact even when the computer is off. The BIOS is a good example of an application using ROM. The BIOS controls very low-level access to the hardware.

Busses and ports are general terms for connectivity components with connect the different parts of the PC together. These include the serial port, parallel port, PCI and PCIe busses, and the Universal Serial Bus (USB) controller. These devices allow communication between different parts of the system. Also network interface cards are now standard on most motherboards, although USB and PCI versions of the devices are also available.

Your optical drives and hard disk drives are also components in your computer. To allow data interchange between your CPU and drives, SATA, ATA, and SCSI controllers are still widely used.

The core multimedia components include the sound card and graphics card. They make computing more fun and useful for creative professionals such as designers, gamers, and musicians. Multimedia is definitely a place where high-quality components really matter.

Feeding all these components with a steady supply of energy is another component called the power supply. This is an often overlooked piece of hardware but obviously very important! A low quality power supply can cause havoc in a computer system. On the other hand a bigger than necessary power supply can increase system heat, waste power, and make a lot of noise. Choose wisely!

At the most exterior of the computer we see the computer case. This is meant to look good, protect the components, and provide an easy interface to plug in peripherals. If you are buying or building your own computer, make sure it has a good case.

Apple is well-known for high quality PC and laptop cases, although most major companies have fair to medium quality PC cases. Beware of computers with cheap looking plastic cases. If a computer manufacturer uses a cheap case, it's very likely they are also using other cheap components inside as well. Cheap components equal a slow computer which will break after moderate use. If you intend to use a computer for several hours every day, it makes sense to buy the very best one which fits your needs and budget.

I hope this reading inspires you to learn more about the components in your computer. Just remember that putting computers back together is harder than taking them apart!

Now continue to the Activities