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Originally Answered: What are computer components?
This is an extremely broad question, so I can only provide an extremely broad answer. Computer components are the parts that go into a computer that make it work. I’ll give a brief description of the parts and what they do:
First we have to discuss binary. Binary is a number system that can represent numbers with either a 1 or a 0. I won’t get into how to convert numbers from decimal to binary, but it’s good to go learn it.
The motherboard is a large circuit board where all of your computer components connect. It has slots for one or more CPU, several memory sticks, hard drive data connectors, expansion cards, and more.
Power Supply Unit (PSU)
This is a box that may or may not come with your case. It’s what plugs into your wall and provides power to your computer. It converts the 120 or 240V AC voltage from your wall into 12v, 5v, and 3.3v DC voltage for the computer to use. Depending on the wattage rating of the PSU, there will be many ‘rails’ which are the circuitry that converts the AC to the given DC current. PSUs also have a rating, usually corresponding to a metal, which tells how efficient the PSU is at converting the AC to DC.
Central Processing Unit (CPU)
The CPU is the “brain” of the computer. It has billions of tiny switches that switch on and off several billion times a second. When a switch is on the computer sees that as a 1 in binary, and when it’s off the computer sees this as a 0. The CPU has an instruction set that allows very simple commands to be carried out, and changes these switches accordingly. Nearly every other part in the computer feeds back to the CPU for it to do work.
This is basically the CPU’s ‘scratch pad’. Imagine solving a problem in Algebra and writing down each step to solve the problem. The CPU uses this to store steps that it needs to access later. Other things, like your operating system, are stored in RAM too. This is mostly because reading and writing to RAM is much faster than the hard disk.
A hard disk is your computer’s storage. It stores items like system files, programs, documents, pictures, etc. There are two major types of hard disks: Hard Disk Drives (HDD), and Solid State Drives.
A HDD uses spinning glass or plastic disks (platters) which are coated with a magnetic material. The polarity of the material (positive or negative) corresponds with binary (ones and zeros). A device called a read head floats above the platters on an extremely thin cushion of air, thinner than a human hair. The platters spin at a very high rate, and the read head moves back and forth across the platters detecting the polarity of the magnetic material.
A SSD uses chips similar to a thumb drive to store data. These drives have no moving parts, which makes them more robust than a HDD. The lack of moving parts also makes them significantly faster than a HDD. The biggest drawback to a SSD is that the chips have a limited number of times the data can be changed before they start to fail. The number of writes before failure has significantly increased over the years.
Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)
The GPU is what allows you to display information on a computer monitor. There are generally two types of GPUs: Embedded and Standalone.
An embedded GPU is a separate processor that lives on the CPU chip. It generally isn’t very powerful, so it’s not the first choice for people who want to play games.
A standalone GPU is essentially a small specialized computer that attaches to your motherboard, typically in one of the expansion card slots. It has its own CPU and memory, and takes a lot of the work in processing graphics off of the CPU. It performs very complex calculations very quickly, allowing you to play games that mimic 3D, use high definition textures, and more.
Network Interface Card (NIC)
The term NIC is a mostly outdated term which is a hold over from when computer networking was still new. Back then you had to buy a separate expansion card to allow your computer to connect to a network. These days, the NIC is often just some extra circuitry on the motherboard.
The NIC lets you connect to a network over a specific medium, whether it be copper Ethernet cable, fiber-optic cable, or wirelessly.
This is what allows your computer to output audio to speakers, or receive audio through a microphone or other audio device. Most of the time the motherboard has this built in, but you can buy high end audio cards to output audio in more channels, or input special audio such as a MIDI device.
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