Introduction to Computer Hardware and Operating System

  • Information technology is a collective term used to describe the use of a computer to process and display data.
  • A computer needs two components to function – the hardware and the software.
  • Hardware is a collective term used to denote the physical parts of the computer.
  • Software is the programs and applications that run on the hardware, and are responsible for processing data.
  • Hardware facilitates data input and output, while software allows for data processing.
  • The computer case houses the internal hardware and anything outside it, e.g keyboard and mouse, is called a peripheral. The peripheral is connected to the mainboard by a cable or wirelessly through Bluetooth or WiFi (wireless fidelity) technology. The internal hardware is built around the main circuit board called the motherboard. They are called internal because they are inside the computer case, and they are installed directly onto dedicated sockets and slots built in the motherboard. The 3 key hardware are the central processing unit (CPU), the main memory provided by the random-access memory (RAM), and the secondary non-volatile memory provided by the storage disk such as a mechanical hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD).
swript motherboard
Computer Motherboard with installed CPU and DDR4 Dynamic RAM.
  • The most basic software needed for a computer to become functional is called the operating system (OS). The OS provides an interface that allows OS-dependent software called programs to interact with the hardware and process data.
  • RAM provides the working area where software data and instructions are placed before they are executed (or processed) by the CPU. If RAM needs to be refreshed when working so that it loads data into the CPU, then it is called dynamic RAM (DRAM); but if it does not need constant refreshing during operations, then it is a static RAM (SRAM). Usually, SRAM is used to store cache memory and is normally fitted in the motherboard. Meanwhile, DRAM is used as system RAM which is plugged into RAM slots in the motherboard. RAM speed is calculated in megaHertz (MHz). Also, there are currently 4 types of DRAM: DDR (has 184 pins), DDR2 (has 240 pins), DDR3 (has 240 pins), and DDR4 (has 288 pins). Laptop DRAM is physically smaller than DRAM used in a personal computer (PC), it is called SO-DIMM. DDR3 SO-DIMM has 204 pins while DDR4 SO-DIMM has 260 pins.
  • HDD is analogous to a filing cabinet where one stores documents and paperwork. It serves as the non-volatile or permanent memory in the PC. To run a program, it first needs to be moved from the HDD to RAM in readiness for data processing by the CPU. HDD is connected to the motherboard via a SATA connection and it spins at 5400 revolutions-per-minute (rpm), 7200rpm, or 10000rpm.
  • SSD has a much higher data transfer rate (DTR) as compared to an HDD.
swript hard disk drive
Different types of HDD. From left: 3.5-inch Mechanical HDD for Desktop computers, 2.5-inch HDD for laptops, and an external hard drive.
Swript Solid State Drive
A SanDisk solid state secondary storage/memory device.
  • Others devices can serve as secondary storage devices, e.g floppy discs, optical discs, flash drives, and memory cards.
  • An optical drive allows for data stored in optical discs such as CDs and DVDs to be read, and in some instance allows for data to be written into a compatible optical disc through a process called burning.
  • Memory cards are also called SD cards, and they come in 3 formats: SD card that measures 32.0 millimeters (mm) by 24mm, mini-SD that is 21.5mm by 20mm, and the micro-SD that is 15mm by 11mm. The memory card is read by a card reader, which is usually built into a smartphone, laptop, or tablet.
  • The USB flash drive is also called a memory stick and it plugs into the universal serial bus (USB) port of the computer.
  • A hard disk that is not plugged into the SATA port of the motherboard, but is instead plugged into the USB port is called an external hard disk.
  • If the hard drive is connected to the PC through the Ethernet port, then it is called a network-attached storage (NAS) drive. The NAS drive must be installed in a NAS unit that has its own dedicated power supply, processor, and RAM. The NAS drive allows for backup storage. If this NAS drive is linked to online storage that can be accessed via the internet, then files can be uploaded to, and downloaded from, the online storage. This type of online storage is called a personal cloud. The personal cloud can provide more storage space than that found in the NAS drive, though one must usually pay for the storage space provided in the cloud storage. If the personal cloud allows for automatic updating of data in a folder in the cloud when the same folder is updated in the NAS drive, then it is said that the folders are synced and the automatic updating process is called syncing. Remember, syncing can only occur when an internet connection allows for data transfer from the NAS drive to the personal cloud. The main providers of personal cloud services are Western Digital through its mycloud.com service, Google via its googledrive.com service, Dropbox via its dropbox.com service, and Microsoft through its onedrive.com service.
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