Basic Hardware Components

A typical personal computer will consist of 6 major components. These components are (in no specific order)


2-Central Processor (CPU)

3-Graphics Processor (GPU)

4-Hard drive

5-Random Access Memory (RAM)

6-Power Supply (PSU)
Lets take a brief look over each of these components and see what they are, and what they do.

1-The Motherboard

The motherboard is a Printed Circuit Board(PCB). This is what everything else connects to. To someone new to computers, It looks extremely intimidating.

But basically the motherboards main purpose is to connect all other components together.

One way to think of it is if it wasn’t for the motherboard, everything would have to be connected with wires. Whether that statements true to everything about the motherboard doesn’t matter, it’s just to help you understand it’s primary use.

Ya no thanks…—>

2-Central Processor Unit (CPU)

The Central Processor is the component in a personal computer that you could call the brain. I’m not going to go in depth about CPUs. Unless your eyeing to be an engineer for central processors, it’s best just to know that without one your not going to get far.

3-Graphics Processor (GPU)

Unlike the Central Processor, the Graphics processor isn’t actually necessary. The CPU is capable of handling both it’s own duties and graphical. However that statement was more true back in 1990 than it is today. All current operating systems require a GPU, the CPU simply can’t handle graphics processing anywhere near as well as a GPU.

Most Motherboards have a basic Graphics Processors installed directly on it. However most of the time the GPUs that are on the motherboard aren’t advanced enough to run high definition video, among other eye candy material. That’s when a separately sold GPU Card is necessary. These are inserted into the appropriate slot on the motherboard. Most of the time even the most economical GPU card on the market is noticeably better at graphics processing than its built in the motherboard brethren.

4-Hard drive

The Hard Disk Drive (hdd) is another integral part of a personal computer. All components we’ve covered so far don’t have a means to hold much data if any at all. This is where the hard drive comes into play. Regardless of what type of hdd you talk about, they all do the same important thing, and that’s to store data. The hard drive will store any data it’s told to, and hold onto it until it’s told to send it off. This is also where the Operating System(Windows, Mac, Linux) calls home, but we’ll expand on that later.

Hdd’s come in various data sizes. Today it’s not uncommon to see 1 Terabyte hard drives. To put that in something more physical, a very small text file is about 8 bytes, and 1 Terabyte = 1,099,511,627,776 Bytes or 137,438,953,472 very small text files. Why do we need so much space? Well with the advent of digital music, pictures, and high definition video, our old bytes, kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes simply don’t get us far anymore. 😦 And one day our Terabyte hdd’s won’t cut it either, In fact It’s almost guaranteed that within the next 5-10 years from now(2012) the first Petabyte hdd will show itself!

In the picture above is a standard hard drive with magnetic disks(platters) and magnetic heads to write and read from the platters. If you ignore the fact that it’s magnetic, these types of hdds are very similar to old record players where the disk spins, and the needle moves along the ridges in the vinyl to “read”. Now it’s not a perfect example since there are no ridges in a hdd, but mechanically the movements are nothing we haven’t seen before.

5-Random Access Memory (RAM)

Ram is simply another storage medium like a hdd. The difference is ram has no moving parts like a standard hdd does, therefore the speed at which it can send and receive data is orders of magnitude greater than than best magnetic hdd.

Ram itself is used for the operating system, programs, and other software. Also if the hdd is where the Operating System calls home, then ram is where it would work. When an OS is booted(called into action), it lives and breaths in the ram until the computer is shutdown. Without it the computer won’t even turn on. I’ll be expanding more about the use of ram in later topics.

6-Power Supply (PSU)

Now what would be a good electronic without electricity! The Power Supply Unit allows you to plug your computer into a receptacle in your home, and turns that dangerously high voltage for a small computer into something the computer will enjoy. The power supply takes 120v AC and turns it into 12v, 5v, 3.3v, and sometimes 24v DC to be used safely by the many components that we covered. That’s about all the basics I feel comfortable trying to teach you about PSUs.


Extra Content



Parts on a motherboard


How a CPU is made


CPU vs GPU not the best explanation video, but only one I could find

-Hard Drives


Magnetic HDD slow motion

Samsung SSD commercial (Fun explanation of the difference between magnetic hhd to ssd)


Ram explained simply (obvious advertisement, so ignore the comment “best way to improve performance is increase memory, cause it’s not entirely true)


Computer PSU (Doesn’t go into how electricity works, or what is AC & DC electricity)

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