Introduction to How PCs Work

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Introduction to How PCs Work
When you mention the word "technology," most people think about computers. Virtually every facet of our lives has some computerized component. The appliances in our homes have microprocessors built into them, as do our televisions. Even our cars have computers. But the computer that everyone thinks of first is typically the personal computer, or PC. A PC is a general-purpose tool built around a microprocessor. It has lots of different parts -- including memory, a hard disk, a modem, and more -- that work together. "General purpose" means that you can do many different things with a PC. You can use it to type documents, send e-mail, browse the Internet and play games. PCs trace their history back to the 1970s, when a man named Ed Roberts began to sell computer kits based on a microprocessor chip designed by Intel. Roberts called his computer the Altair 8800 and sold the unassembled kits for $395. Popular Electronics ran a story about the kid in its January 1975 issue, and to the surprise of just about everyone, the kits became an instant hit and the era of the personal computer began [source: The Computer History Project]. A few years later, the dynamic duo of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak unleashed the Apple II computer on the world. From that point on, the personal computer really began to take off. Other manufacturers followed suit, and soon there were computers from Commodore, Atari and Texas Instruments. Not long after the debut of the Apple II, IBM got into the personal computer game. Today, when someone says PC, chances are they mean a machine running on the Microsoft Windows operating system with an x86-compatible microprocessor. While Apple Macintosh computers are technically personal computers, most people wouldn't call them PCs. In this article, we will talk about PCs in the general sense and all the different parts that go into them. You'll learn about the various components and how they work together in a basic operating session. You'll also find out what the future may hold for these machines.

PC Parts

Let's take a look at the main components of a typical desktop computer: • Central processing unit (CPU) - The microprocessor "brain" of the computer system is called the central processing unit. It's a chip that holds a complete computational engine. It uses assembly language as its native language. Everything that a computer does is overseen by the CPU. • Memory - This is very fast storage used to hold data. It has to be fast because it connects directly to the microprocessor. There are several specific types of memory in a computer: • Random-access memory (RAM) - Used to temporarily store information with which the computer is currently working • Read-only memory (ROM) - A permanent type of memory storage used by the computer for important data that doesn't change • Basic input/output system (BIOS) - A type of ROM that is used by the computer to establish basic communication when the computer is first powered on • Caching - The storing of frequently used data in extremely fast RAM that connects directly to the CPU • Virtual memory - Space on a hard disk used to temporarily store data and swap it in and out of RAM as needed • Flash memory - a solid state storage device, Flash memory requires no moving parts and retains data even after the computer powers off • Motherboard - This is the main circuit board to which all of the other internal components connect. The CPU and memory are usually on the motherboard. Other systems may be found directly on the motherboard or connected to it through a secondary connection. For example, a sound card can be built into the motherboard or connected through an expansion slot. • Power supply - An electrical transformer regulates the electricity used by the computer. • Hard disk - This is large-capacity permanent storage used to hold information such as programs and...
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