The Basics of a Computer

Personal Computers (PCs) built by magicians and run on fairy dust, right? Unfortunately not, but PCs are a surprisingly simple piece of kit to understand.

Today we will go over the basic components that make a PC work. Laptops, Tablets and Phones have a very similar architecture. These devices have smaller versions, of these components, to achieve a more convenient form factor, for the device.



The motherboard is a staging post for all the components to work from and plug into. It has a variety of sockets for each of the different components to fit into. It also has basic software to allow these components to interact with each other.

Interfacing with other devices is all managed by the motherboard, also. The motherboard contains sockets for your monitor, keyboard, mouse and a variety of other devices.

It also manages the networking and sound functionality of the PC. These can be split of into dedicated components for increased sound quality or faster networking. However, the vast majority of users will not need to utilise the increased functionality.


(Central Processing Unit)


The CPU is the main brain of the PC. It is given instructions, usually in the form of mathematical sums, and outputs the result of these instructions.

In recent years, CPUs have evolved into Dual Core CPUs.

The CPU emits a huge amount of heat. This leads to the device shown to the left: the heat sink. This draws heat away from the CPU, in order to stop it overheating.

The CPU emits a huge amount of heat. This leads to the device shown to the left: the heat sink. This draws heat away from the CPU, in order to stop it overheating.

This is simply two CPUs in one component. They are designed to work together to allow for more complicated functions to be formed or for functions to be performed faster.

You will encounter Quad Core (4 CPUs) and increasing varieties in coming years.






(Random Access Memory)


The RAM is a storage place for data that is in use. It is usually about to go into the CPU or has just come out. RAM is built to be able to move data around very quickly.

If your PC is running slowly, adding RAM may well fix the issue. This is because often what is slowing down your PC: is that data that the CPU needs cannot fit in the RAM available. This leads to the data being stored in other, less speedy, places.

Hard Drive


If data is not going to be used by the CPU for a while, then it will be stored on the Hard Drive. This is long-term data storage. It holds hundreds of times more data than RAM, though it is significantly slower at moving that data around.



(Power Supply Unit)


All components need power. The PSU takes power from the wall and splits it out to the different components, at the correct voltage and wattage for that component.




Graphics Card


That graphics card functions a lot like the CPU. It takes instructions and outputs results. However, the instructions it receives are focused on graphical output.

Most users will be more than happy with the graphics card built into their motherboard.

Users who work with graphically intensive software, such as video editing or Computer Aided Design (and also gamers) will require a dedicated graphics card.

There are other, more dedicated components, but these are the basics. There is also a huge range of different components to meet every budget and performance requirement.