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Computers 101

Computers are complex pieces of technology. This guide will attempt to explain the various components of a computer and provide some basic troubleshooting steps and best practices.

Prerequisites: Own a computer. Have turned it on and used it.

Difficulty Level: Member • Nerd • Platypus

Estimated Time: 1 hr

Expected Outcome: Member will have a better understanding of what exactly a computer is and what some of the different components do

Tools Required: Eyes, Fingers, Brain, a little courage

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Anatomy of a Computer

  • CPU - Central Processing Unit is the brain of the computer and the part that does most of the work. Usually this is an Intel or AMD processor that is responsible for completing most of the logical operations of the machine. 
  • Motherboard - The circuit board that connects the CPU to other components - RAM, Hard Drive, I/O Ports, Monitor, Keyboard, Mouse, Etc.
  • RAM - Random Access Memory - is the temporary holding area for programs that are open and running. If a file cabinet is your Hard Drive (storing files), RAM is the files you have open on the table in front of you. Measured in Gigabytes...usually 4Gb, 8Gb, 16Gb, etc.
  • Hard Disk Drive (HDD) - Hard Drives are the storage area for all of your applications, files, operating systems, etc. Hard Drives are like file cabinets holding all kinds of files. Hard Drives are measured in Gigabytes and Terabytes usually. Typical sizes 512Gb, 1Tb, 2Tb, up to 16Tb. HDDs are physical disks that your computer will move to access data, thus resulting in a sometimes slower access speed. 
  • Solid State Drive (SSD) - Solid State drives are the quicker version of Hard Disk Drives. Unlike HDDs, SSDs do not use physical disks to store data, but rather semi-conductor chips.  In most modern machines, SSDs are referred to as a "Boot Drive" because loading system files and operating systems onto an SSD results in faster load times for the machine. Typically, SSD's size is measured in Gigabytes and sometimes Terabytes. Normal sizes are 256 Gb, 512Gb, 1Tb, up to around 4Tb. Something to note about SSDs is that they are much more expensive than a traditional HDD, but they do perform better. 
  • I/O Ports - Input/Output Ports are for connecting devices to your computer. Ports can be integrated as part of the Motherboard or they can be inserted into the Motherboard. I/O ports include USB 2.0/3.0 type A or C, Network, VGA, HDMI, DVI, Firewire, Serial, Parallel, etc.
  • Monitor - The screen which allows you to see what’s happening with your computer. This is how you see the operating system, programs, data files, etc. Your computer can be on even when your monitor isn’t connected, powered on, or functional. The computer doesn’t require the display...it’s only for you. Monitor sizes are in inches measured diagonally. Typical sizes 13”, 15”, 24”, 27”, etc. Monitors connect to your computer via ports such as VGA, S-Video, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, etc.
  • Keyboard - The common input device for most computers. Referred to as DVORAK or QWERTY which defines the organization of the keys. You use the keyboard to input characters to the computer. You can get wired and wireless keyboards in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and feel.
  • Mouse - Controls motion of the pointer on the screen of a computer. The motion of the pointer mimics the motion and position of the mouse. First introduced in 1968, the mouse is the most common interface to computers. You can get wired and wireless mice in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, feels, etc.
  • Universal Serial Bus (USB) - a standard used by computers and peripherals to allow for easy connection of devices. You can use your USB ports to connect keyboards, mice, hard drives, cameras, phones, etc.
  • Network - computers use network interface cards to connect to both wireless and wired networks. Ethernet is the term you’ll here to refer to wired connections even though this isn’t completely accurate since the term actually refers to the family of protocols, connections, etc. You’ll also here the term WiFi when referring to wireless network connections. Speeds for ethernet connections are usually measured in megabytes expressed as 10Mbs, 100Mbs, 1000Mbs, etc. Wireless connection speeds are usually referred to as types 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac, etc.
  • Operating System - The operating system or OS is the manager/coordinator/translator between computer hardware devices, software, drivers, etc. It’s also the part that delivers an experience to the user and enables operation of the computer, printers, networks, etc.
Troubleshooting your computer
  • Computer will not turn on
    • First, make sure you have power to the computer. Maybe check the outlet with another device like a lamp or other small appliance.
    • Next, make sure the computer’s power cable is inserted properly. Verify all connections from the outlet to the power adapter to the computer.
    • Next, determine if only one component of the computer is malfunctioning. Maybe the monitor is off or damaged. You can test this by connecting the monitor to another device like a DVD player, another computer, etc.
    • Many times, removing power from the computer for up to 30 minutes and reconnecting will correct issues of a computer not restarting.