Computer Concepts and Terminology

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The term hardware refers to the physical components of the computer system (as opposed to the software). Your computer hardware will consist of the devices within the case of the computer itself, and any peripheral devices that are connected to the computer (such as the mouse and keyboard).


Configurations and Specs
Typical Specifications


The primary component of the computer is the motherboard (also called the main circuit board, main logic board, mainboard, or systemboard). The motherboard is a large printed circuit board with microchips, connectors, and other components mounted on it, and with copper circuitry traces that connect the components together.

A motherboard typically holds the following items:

  • CPU (Central Processing Unit) where the actual processing of data takes place.
  • System clock circuitry (that keeps all of the digital chips in lockstep)
  • Other controller chips that act as traffic cops directing data flow along the system busses (the circuitry connecting the chips to the CPU) and I/O ports.
  • RAM (the main memory, plus additional slots for adding more memory)
  • ROM (containing the BIOS)
  • CMOS memory”
  • Expansion slots (for adding expansion cards such as Video cards and Sound cards)

Additional information about the parts listed above can be found in the other sections of this tutorial. Along with the motherboard, the case of your computer typically contains a power supply (to convert the AC line current from the wall outlet to the low-voltage DC current used by the computer) and several storage devices located in the expansion bays of the case (such as: hard drives, floppy drives, Zip drives, and CD drives, and DVD drives).

Configurations and Specifications


PC motherboard
(click for larger image)

When you go to purchase a computer (either online or at a computer store) you will have several system configurations to choose from. Each configuration includes a particular set of parts or components (both hardware and software) in a specific arrangement. A similar term, architecture, also describes the layout and interactions of the components of a computer system.

Each system configuration will have a specification that lists the details about the components included in that particular system. Below you will see a typical computer system specification; look it over carefully. By the time you finish with all the parts of this tutorial, you should be able to explain all of the terminology in this specification:

Typical Specification for a Desktop Computer System

  1. Processor: Intel® Pentium® 4 processor, 3 GHz, with 800 MHz front side bus, 512KB Level 2 Cache.
  2. Microsoft® Windows® XP Professional.
  3. Memory: 512MB DDR SDRAM at 400 MHz (expandable to 4 GB).
  4. Hard drive: 250 GB Serial ATA, 7 ms seek time, 7200 RPM, 512KB cache.
  5. Floppy drive: 3.5" 1.44 MB.
  6. Optical drive: 12x DVD-ROM / 48x CD-RW combo drive.
  7. Expansion slots: 1 AGP and 5 PCI.
  8. External ports: Six USB 2.0 (two on front panel), one Parallel, one Serial, two PS/2, and one IEEE 1394.
  9. Modem: 56K PCI FAX/modem.
  10. Video card: 256MB RADEON™ 9800 AGP graphics card.
  11. Monitor: 17" CRT (16" viewable), 1,024 x 768, .27 dp.
  12. Sound card: Sound Blaster® Audigy™2 card w/Dolby 5.1 stereo.
  13. Speakers: Bose® B775 surround sound speaker system with subwoofer.
  14. Networking: Ethernet 10/100
  15. Keyboard: 101-key multi-function keyboard
  16. Mouse: Logitech® MX™ 500 optical mouse with scroll wheel.
  17. Case: Tower case with 6 expansion bays (two for internal-only drives).
  18. Application Software: Microsoft® Office Professional 2003.

Typical PC System (not all components are shown here).

Whew! What does all that mean? Read the other parts of this tutorial (processors, memory, input/output, storage, ports, and net/telecom) to find out. (The terms in italics in the specifications list above are brand names that you don’t need to know).

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Last update: August 29, 2016 7:31 PM