What Everybody Ought to Know About Computers

If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re doing so on a computer of some kind, be it PC, tablet, or smartphone. Yet, if you can’t explain technically how your click made this article appear, you’re not alone. Despite how ubiquitous they’ve become, computers are still somewhat mystical in the eyes of the average person. To the layman, a computer functions somewhat like a mysterious black box: we give it input that gets processed and magically the screen changes mere milliseconds later. However, learning what happens inside can help users work smarter and make wiser purchases.

The primary component of the computer, comparable to the brain, is the CPU. This acronym stands for “central processing unit,” a component which handles all the logic in most PCs. This tiny piece of silicon, usually sitting beneath a much-larger fan, performs simple instructions very quickly – billions of times per second — to achieve complex operations. The CPU is also what processes taps, clicks, and dictates how other components will perform their duties. 

Working hand-in-hand with the CPU is RAM, random access memory. RAM is used by the CPU as temporary storage, like scratch paper for a math problem. Any data opened on a computer, such as web pages, media, and text is all stored in RAM. When the data is no longer in active use, or the computer is shut down, the data is simply discarded from RAM. 

For long-term storage, computers use either HDDs or SSDs, the latter being a faster alternative to the former. These devices perform similar functions to RAM, but save their data permanently; however, this comes at the cost of performance, as both types of storage are many times slower than RAM. Thus, they’re only used when it’s time to store data permanently, such as downloading and saving a file or saving a document. 

The motherboard unites these components together. Predominantly acting as a circuit board, it provides only basic logic, but more importantly gives interfaces for the CPU, RAM, and storage to communicate with each other. The motherboard is also responsible for talking to peripherals, such as the mouse and keyboard, and sending that data to and from the CPU. Lastly, it distributes power to the aforementioned components. 

That power must come from somewhere, however, that being the PSU. The power supply unit is responsible for converting AC wall power into DC power that computers can use. Over time, PSUs have gotten more complex. Now available are ATX-branded models that enable a smarter sleep mode; this is how PCs can wake up with just a click.

Though all components are essential to make a PC work, some have a much greater impact on daily performance than others, depending on how the computer is used. Thus, consumers should adapt their purchases accordingly. For most home and office users, the speed of the CPU is most important, followed by the amount of RAM and the speed of storage; a fast SSD might help load faster, but won’t help productivity afterwards. Power users, like those working with media, will want a balance of each. Gaming computers should emphasize a fast GPU, which is a graphics-specific processing unit; otherwise gaming PCs sold on a CPU will deliver worse performance than a prioritized alternative. 

Computers should now be easier to understand. With this information, the unknown now becomes the known, making you a smarter consumer. 

Author: Grey Ruessler, IT Tech Assistant


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