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3. Internal Hardware

  1. The Motherboard
  2. Processor (CPU)
  3. Memory
  4. Mass Storage – Disks
  5. Hardware overview
  6. Upgrade or Replace?

Estimated completion time: 100 minutes

What is in this module?

This material is intended to give you a foundation for understanding any computer system – the internal hardware. The opposite approach, starting with the Web and applications, was tempting. However, you can't really understand why the Internet "isn't working" without some understanding of networks, and you can't understand networks without understanding something about computer hardware. The Internet is just a bunch of (computing) machines talking to one another, after all.

When we learn, we build upon what we know. To do that for computers, we have to start inside the box – otherwise, everything is magic. We make up explanations for things that don't work (and things that do). So, in this module we look at the hardware found inside the typical computer. Although it might seem we are only talking about desktop PCs, remember that all of the material applies to supercomputers and your iPod – even your microwave oven – as well. Sure, your microwave doesn't have a hard disk or run Windows, but the principles are the same. (Your Xbox does have a hard disk and can run a modern OS – Linux.)

All of the material covered is directly relevant to your own computer(s) or a friend's, or at least to the many purchases of computing systems you are going to make over your lifetime. Consider how many digital devices (computers) you own right now. Would it make sense to pay more for a PDA (personal digital assistant) with a 3 GHz processor and 8 GB of RAM? (That would be a bit like putting a race car engine and 300 gallon gas tank into your Tata, which is the world's cheapest car.)

Try to determine what devices you have in your own desktop PC and/or laptop. Look at ads for new computers. If you were buying a new computer, what would it have in it? Hardware matters.

Why this material is included?

student Even assuming a student is unlikely to have to purchase a new system, and that you don't "like" computers, there is still a likelihood that you will need to upgrade your system. Understanding what you have now, and what you can add, will save you money.
professional There are many professions where you could reasonably be expected to evaluate existing hardware or to purchase new hardware. Even more likely is having to upgrade a system (even if you simply ask for the upgrade). What external peripherals you can easily use is limited by the ports available to you.
citizen of a digital society Computers actually do very simple things, very quickly, under the direction of software.
The discussion of history and legacy devices gives some perspective on the rate of change in computing.
course goals Describe various standard (internal) hardware components of a PC:
motherboard, CPU, RAM, memory types, mass storage devices, hardware specifications, video & ports
Upgrading a system
instructor goals Understand basic operations of the internal components of a computer
Understand how peripherals are connected to the motherboard
Gain perspective on the history of computing
Gain a minimal understanding of some legacy hardware

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Attribution: Dr. Paul Mullins, Slippery Rock University
These notes began life as the Wikiversity course Introduction to Computers.
The course draws extensively from and uses links to Wikipedia.
A large number of video links are provided to (I hope you like cats. And food demos.)