T171_PC

Acknowledgements
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The content contained within this document is sourced from an Open University OpenLearn
project labspace unit T171_PC - .
Licensing
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0
Licence.
1: Software and hardware
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When you think of a computer you probably think of the dull-looking box sitting on top of, or
underneath, your desk, plus the monitor, keyboard and mouse. These, along with all of the
components inside the computer box, are the physical parts of the computer - the hardware.
But the hardware is just an expensive doorstop without something to make it work. For you to
produce your annual budget, write your great novel or draw your birthday party invitations
you need programs which will make the computer do things. The computer also requires
programs just to look after itself and to manage all its components. Programs are the
software. Therefore, in this module, when l refer to 'technology' l mean both hardware and
software, since the computer requires both to be a functional machine. You might like to think
of the hardware as a car, and the software as the driver and the fuel it requires before it can
be driven. Hardware includes components such as the microprocessor, hard disk drive,
memory chip, graphics card and so forth. Separate hardware items that are added onto the
basic computer unit, such as the monitor, modem, printer, keyboard, etc., are often called
peripheraIs. Software can be written in a variety of programming languages. A programming
language is used to express the instructions which tell the computer what to do in response
to a certain action. For instance, word processing software tells the computer to display the
letter 'a' on the monitor when you press the 'a' key on your keyboard. Software can be
divided into three basic categories:
- Operating systems. These communicate with the hardware of the machine, and act
as the basis on which other software programs can be run. The operating system, or OS, is
the means by which both other programs and the user interact with the computer. lt is the
first thing you see when your computer starts up, and it allows you to tell the computer what it
is you want to do. Examples of operating systems include DOS, Windows, UNlX and the
Macintosh OS. Operating systems are very important in the story of the PC and we shall
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return to them later.
- Languages. These allow developers to write new software programs. There is a wide
range of programming languages to suit different types of task; examples include Basic, C,
Assembler, Pascal, C++, Visual Basic and Java.You will look at these in detail if you do a
computer programming course, but they do not feature very much in this course.
- AppIications. These allow you to perform activities to which the computer is suited.
Applications are the reason most people buy computers in the first place. Examples include
word processors (such as Microsoft Word), spreadsheets (e.g. Lotus 1-2-3), databases (e.g.
Access), graphics packages (e.g. CorelDRAW), and so on.
2: Binary, bits and bytes
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To appreciate the importance of the various breakthroughs in the history of the computer
industry you will need a basic knowledge of how a computer works, and in this segment you
will look at how a computer represents information. At its very lowest level a computer
operates by turning on or off millions of tiny switches, called transistors. ln computers these
transistors can only be in one of two states; that is, on or off. Such devices are thus referred
to as two-state devices. Another example of a two-state device might be a conventional light
switch. lt is either on or off, with no intermediate state. The states of 'on' and 'off' can be
represented by the numbers 1 and 0. ln mathematics the term binary is used to refer to a
number system which has only two digits, that is 1 and 0. The number system we use in
everyday life has ten digits, 0 to 9, and is called denary. The binary system is the smallest
number system that can be used to provide information. Any number from our normal,
denary system can be represented in binary; 0 in denary is 0 in binary. Similarly 1 in denary
is 1 in binary. When you get to 2 in denary you have a problem. There are no more symbols
in binary; you are restricted to only 1 and 0. So how do you represent two? This question is
similar to asking how you represent ten in denary. Once you get to nine you have run out of
digits, so you simply create a new column and start afresh, using 1 and 0. This is also what
you do in binary, so 2 in denary becomes 10 in binary. When you move on to 3 (in denary)
you proceed as before; 3 becomes 11 in binary. The table below shows how denary numbers
convert to binary. Denary number Binary equivalent 0 0 1 1 2 10 3 11 4 100 5 101 6 110 7
111 8 1000 9 1001 10 1010 lt is useful to think of binary in terms of columns. The first column
represents units, so a 0 here means no units, i.e. 0, and a 1 means 1 unit. The next column
represents the numbers of 2s, so a 1 in this column means 2. The next column represents 4s
and so on, with each column being twice as big as the previous one. This is also what we do
in denary, each column being a factor of 10 bigger than the previous one. So the denary
number 2902 can be interpreted as (2 x 1000) + (9 x 100) + (0 x 10) + (2 x 1). lf you want to
convert binary numbers to denary, this is a useful method. For instance, if l wanted to convert
the numbers 1000100 and 11001 to denary l would make a set of columns as shown.
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As l mentioned earlier, a computer functions by manipulating 1s and 0s. As you have seen,
you can represent any denary number in binary. lt is also possible to represent any letter of
the alphabet, or other character, using binary by simply assigning a code to it in the
computer. For instance, there is an agreed representation of text known as lnternational
Alphabet Number 5 (lA-5) in which the letter 'A' is represented by the binary pattern
1000001. When l type the letter A, this binary number will be stored in my computer. l can
later retrieve it and the letter A will be displayed on screen. This will only happen if the
computer has received instructions to treat 1000001 as an lA-5 character. The same pattern
could be used to represent the denary number 65. The computer knows what to do with the
data because it has instructions from a program, and these instructions are themselves
binary representations. lt is worth examining the difference between data and instructions.
The data is the current information the computer program is working with. This might be
some numbers l am adding up, or some text l am typing. lt will vary from instance to
instance. The instructions are what the computer does with the data. This must always be
consistent, for example clicking on the Save button will always save the data. So numbers
and text can be represented using the binary system. What else can? lmages can be
represented using a technique known as bit-mapping. This divides an image up into
thousands of cells and allocates a value to each cell. lf the image is in black and white, each
cell will have a value of 1 (indicating it is black) or 0 (indicating it is white). Colour can be
represented by allocating more information to each cell to indicate the proportion of red,
green and blue (RGB) values. A wide spectrum of colours can be created by varying the
relative values of red, green and blue. What else can be represented in binary? The answer
is just about anything. Sound, like images, can be divided up into different segments and
each given an appropriate binary value, which can then faithfully reproduce the sound. This
is what your music CD player does. You will hear people talk about computers being 'digital'.
Sound, light and other natural signals are usually analogue. The difference between digital
and analogue is an important one as it underlies the advantage in using computers for many
tasks. You will learn more about what is meant by analogue and digital in the next section.
So computers work by manipulating 1s and 0s. These are binary digits, or bits for short.
Single bits are too small to be much use, so they are grouped together into units of 8 bits.
Each 8-bit unit is called a byte. A byte is the basic unit which is passed around the computer,
often in groups. Because of this the number 8 and its multiples have become important in
computing. You will particularly encounter the numbers 8, 16, 32 and 64 in various contexts
in computing literature, and this is usually due to the 8-bit byte being the basic building unit.
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The key point to appreciate is that although basing your entire system on only two digits may
seem limiting, these two digits can be used to represent almost anything. You will also hear
people speak of kilobytes, megabytes and gigabytes or often just 'K', 'meg' and 'gig' as in,
'This computer has 64 megs of RAM', or 'This file is 45 K'. Bits, bytes, kilobytes and
megabytes are merely ways of measuring the size of things computers deal with. A kilobyte
is 2 to the power of 10 bytes. This is actually 1024 bytes, but is close enough to a thousand
to be given the prefix kilo, meaning a thousand. Similarly, a megabyte is 2 to the power of 20
(or 1 kilobyte squared), which comes out as 1,048,576 bytes. For the sake of convenience,
this is called a megabyte, meaning a million bytes. A gigabyte is 1000 megabytes.
3: Analogue and digital
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The term 'analogue' is often used to distinguish something from 'digital'. For instance, the first
mobile phones were mainly analogue, but there has now been a general shift over to 'digital'
phones. The term 'digital' is one which has become increasingly common over the past
decade or so. lt is used to describe a number of products, such as digital phones, digital
watches, and digital cameras, among many others. lt is also used as a property of
something, as in 'l've got a digital copy of the report'. People also talk of living in the 'digital
age' or of 'being digital'. So what does it mean for something to 'be digital', and why is it
generally portrayed as a good thing? What does it mean to say something is analogue or
digital? Consider an everyday example - clocks. There are analogue clocks, with hands, and
digital clocks, with number displays. The key features of an analogue clock are that its hands
can point to any time on the clock face (on a good clock anyway). The hands sweep through
the times displayed on the clock face in a continual motion. They do not jump between set
values. The digital clock, however, is restricted to displaying set numbers. This is the main
difference between analogue and digital: anaIogue signals are continuous, they can take any
value within their limits, whereas digital ones can only take set values within their range.
DigitaI signals are said to be 'discrete', which means 'separate' or 'distinct'. ('Discrete'
meaning separate should not be confused with the commonly used word 'discreet', which
means circumspect or prudent.) My Oxford dictionary has the following definition for
analogue: 1. an analogous or parallel thing. 2. (attrib.) (usu. analog) (of a computer or
electronic process) using physical variables, e.g. voltage, weight, or length to represent
numbers (cf. DlGlTAL). 'An analogous or parallel thing', where analogous is defined as
'partially similar or parallel; showing analogy'. So an analogue object or signal is one which is
similar to its original in its form. For example, the movement of the hands of a clock is
analogous to the passing of time. Definition 2 has it as something which uses 'physical
variables', which include length, weight and voltage. Note that these are all 'natural' variables,
in that they can be found in the natural world (as opposed to the artificial one created by a
computer). Analogue quantities are found commonly in nature. Now let us consider the
dictionary definition of digital: 1. of or using a digit or digits... 3. (of a computer) operating on
data represented as a series of usu. binary digits or in similar discrete form. So definition 1
has digital as something which uses digits (numbers 0 to 9). This is expanded upon with
reference to computers in definition 3, where digital means to operate on data in a binary
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form. lt also says a 'similar discrete form', which is probably the key difference between
analogue and digital. So one of the properties of an analogue signal is that it can take any
value within a specified range. A digital signal however is restricted to set values. These are
called 'discrete' values, since each must be distinct from the other with no overlap. The
alphabet is a good example of a discrete system. ln our alphabet a letter must be one of the
26 characters. lt cannot fall somewhere in-between A and B say, it is either A or B. This
contrasts with an analogue quantity, such as length. There is an infinite number of
possibilities that a length can have between 1 centimetre and 2 centimetres. The term digital
is often used to refer to a computer, or a microprocessor, that handles information in a digital
form. ln these cases the digits are usually restricted to just one of two possibilities: 1 or 0.
However, natural signals, such as light, sound and electricity, are analogue. lf we are to
interact with digital computers, and use them to act on representations of real things like
sounds and pictures, we need a way to convert analogue signals into digital ones. This
process is known as anaIogue-to-digitaI conversion. Digital devices are often faster and
more efficient than analogue equivalents. So why is it that by limiting a system to just two
values (1 and 0), it is possible to get an improved performance? On the face of it, it would
seem that an analogue system, which could take any value, would have greater flexibility and
power. There are two main reasons why digital systems are often superior: reliability and
manipulation. ReIiabiIity There is an immediate problem in trying to reproduce an analogue
signal. Since it can take any value, how do you know that the value you have reproduced is
correct? This problem does not exist with digital signals. Because a digital value can only be
one of a set range, it can be reproduced exactly. This is why the telephone network has
largely been switched over to a digital system. An analogue signal declines in strength when
it is sent over a wire, so it has to be boosted (or amplified) at regular intervals. However,
when an analogue signal is amplified, any incorrect or corrupted values in the signal (what is
called noise) is also amplified because it is not possible to distinguish noise from the original
signal. A digital signal is not amplified, it is regenerated, so the resulting signal is a faithful
copy of the original. This is possible because of the use of discrete values. Consequently
digital signals can be sent over any distance you like (provided they are regenerated often
enough), and the signal received at the end will be as good as the original. ManipuIation
Another reason why digital systems have become popular is related to the increase in speed
and power of microprocessors, and their falling prices. Although microprocessors only deal
with 1s and 0s, they do so so quickly and reliably that using a microprocessor to handle the
light input into a camera, say, is now a viable proposition. This means that things can be
manipulated easily. Consider a digital image. lt is represented in a computer as a series of 1s
and 0s, which represent the colour, luminescence and hue of each of the image's picture
elements (pixels). lf l have a picture of the British Prime Minister shaking hands with the
American President in a digital format, it is not a difficult job to alter it. All l am doing is
altering the 1s and 0s underneath. So, using suitable software, it would not be difficult to
replace the head of the British Prime Minister with my head (taken from a different digital
image), and blend this in so that it would be very difficult to tell that it was a 'fake'. This would
be very difficult to do with an analogue representation, such as an actual photograph. This
ease of manipulation is very important and powerful, and is one of the reasons why working
in a digital format is so attractive.
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4: Computer architecture
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ln section 3 you saw how a computer could use binary digits (bits) to represent almost any
information. This segment will show how a computer uses this binary representation to
perform its various tasks. By combining a series of bytes any data or instruction can be
represented. Consider a simple example which takes a number and displays it on the screen.
The following instructions might operate for this program: 10000000 = start
program00000001 = exit program00000011 = consider next byte as a number00000101 =
display previous numberThus the following stream of bytes would display 10 (2 in
denary):10000000 (program starts)00000011 (it is told to consider the next byte as a
number)00000010 (treated as a number)00000101 (it is told to display the previous
number)00000001 (it exits) This is essentially what computers do, except on a scale of
complexity enormously greater than this. Although computers operate by manipulating 1s
and 0s, this is not a very useful way for people to work. A more productive means of telling
the computer what to do is required. This need led to the development of programming
languages. The first of these was known as Assembler, which operates at quite a low level in
the computer, telling the computer where to move data and what to do with it. Assembler
takes commands and converts them in to 1s and 0s, which the computer can interpret.
Newer programming languages are more sophisticated, and operate at a higher level than
Assembler, and their arrival has made the task of programming simpler. ln the dummy
program above we used a byte (eight bits) to represent each 'chunk' of information. Most
computers now use 32 or 64 bits. These chunks are called words and are the basic units the
computer manipulates when it is performing an action. The key to your computer is a chip
called the microprocessor. This is its brains, and is where most of the computing takes place.
Before the advent of the microprocessor, computers came mainly in the form of large
mainframes which had a different circuit board for each function. At the core of a mainframe
computer are three separate units linked together to form what is known as the central
processing unit, or CPU. These three units are:
- The arithmetic and logic unit (ALU) - this is the unit which does the actual work of the
computer. As well as the four basic mathematical functions of addition, subtraction,
multiplication and division, it has comparison capabilities such as =, >, < (equals, more than,
less than).
- The control unit - this unit controls the flow of data from the computer's memory into the
ALU and to other devices.
- The memory. A microprocessor combines the ALU and control unit on one silicon chip,
which is why it was at one time referred to as the 'computer on a chip'. ln mainframes the
CPU includes memory, but this is separate in microcomputers, so l shall use the term CPU to
refer to just the combination of ALU and control unit. l shall describe microprocessors in more
detail later, but you should appreciate for now that they can perform a variety of functions.
lnside your computer, in addition to the microprocessor which forms the CPU there are other
microprocessors that are used to control the graphics card, modem and other devices. The
CPU microprocessor is housed on a circuit board called the motherboard. Also on the
motherboard is the cIock chip which acts as a metronome for the computer so that all its
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actions can be synchronised. There may also be one or two ROM chips. ROM stands for
Read Only Memory, which means that the data on these chips cannot be altered, it can only
be read. These chips often contain some important programs which come supplied with the
computer and which are needed for it to function properly. This is why they are made to be
read-only; it would be very unfortunate if an unsuspecting user altered them. As well as the
CPU microprocessor there are devices which can be used to enter data into the computer,
and which it can use to output data. These are called input/output devices (usually referred to
as I/O devices) and might include a keyboard and mouse (for input) and a monitor and
printer (for output). The data for these devices will often pass via a slot-in circuit board (called
a card) inside the PC which plugs into a slot on the motherboard. These cards perform a
number of functions, such as converting data to a form usable by that particular brand of
device. The CPU also sends and receives data to and from the computer's memory, which is
usually referred to as RAM (random access memory). The RAM consists of chips similar in
construction to the CPU. This is the memory which stores all the data the computer is
currently using. You can think of the RAM as the computer's desk. When it needs to work on
something it will retrieve it, for example a file from the hard disk, and put it into the RAM - just
as you might get a file from a drawer and place it on your desktop. The computer will also
load into the RAM the programs it needs to work with this file, in the same way you might
place your calculator on your desktop. Like a desktop there is a limit to how much can be
placed in the RAM. The contents of RAM are often lost when the computer is switched off.
The microprocessor will also have to read from and write to a permanent data storage device
in the form of a hard disk drive. Other permanent storage devices include CD-ROMs (again
the ROM in the name indicates that these CDs cannot be written to), optical disks, tape
storage or fIoppy disks (which may be read only or writable). To receive and send all of this
data the microprocessor is connected to cables, which are referred to as buses. This term
comes from the Latin omnibus, meaning 'for all'. Buses are designed to carry all kinds of
data, rather like the buses you might use to travel around a city (their name is also derived
from omnibus). Thinking of your computer as a street layout, with traffic and buses
transporting data to various destinations, is not a bad way of visualising what is actually
happening. This is a simple overview of a computer's architecture, but it is sufficient for this
course. The architecture is summarised in the figure below.
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5: Computer power
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People often talk about the power of a computer. What do they mean by this and what
factors affect it? So what influences the speed and complexity of the computer? There are
several factors. The first factor is the microprocessor chip used for the CPU. Successive
generations of chips have more and more transistors placed on them. With more transistors
available the chip can be programmed to perform more tasks, therefore increasing its
complexity. lncreased numbers of transistors also allow the chip manufacturers to implement
new methods of improving memory usage and speed of performance. For example, earlier
versions of the lntel microprocessors required a separate chip to be installed in order to cope
with any software requiring lots of complex calculations. The extra chip, known as a maths
co-processor, was integrated in the main microprocessor as more transistors were made
available in subsequent versions. Such improvements in successive generations of
microprocessors are typical, and are made possible by the increased numbers of transistors
available. The second factor that determines a computer's power is its clock speed. Each
action of the CPU can be thought of as occupying one cycle - although most modern CPUs
can perform several tasks at the same time. Therefore the greater the number of cycles per
second, the faster the computer.
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The third factor is the size of the words that both the microprocessor and the buses can
accommodate (go back to the previous segment on computer architecture if you need to
refresh your memory about these). You may sometimes hear people refer to a computer - or
particularly a games console - as a 32-bit, 64-bit or 128-bit machine. These terms refer to the
size of word that the microprocessor can manipulate. The larger the word size, the more
information each word can contain. A 32-bit word can contain twice the data of a 16-bit word.
Therefore increasing the word size improves both the complexity (more data can be
manipulated) and the speed (because it takes the same time to interpret each word). A fourth
factor that affects a computer's power is the amount of memory, or RAM, available. RAM acts
as the computer's working memory, so it contains the information the computer needs for its
current session. This will include various operating system commands (e.g. what a mouse
double click means), the programs currently running (e.g. Microsoft Word with two
documents open), current display configurations (e.g. that one Word document is in front of
the other and the mouse pointer is in the top left of the screen) and so forth. An increase in
the size of the RAM increases the amount of data it can store at any one time. This improves
the complexity of the computer because it can run programs that require a lot of data to be
handled, and several programs can be run simultaneously. lt also increases the speed of the
computer because when the RAM becomes full the computer will temporarily store data on
the hard disk. This will be retrieved when it is required, which takes more time than having it
currently available in memory. So more RAM provides more speed.
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The power of computers now is such that their performance is fast enough to meet most
needs, and the software you use does not really necessitate the rapid upgrade it once did.
This gradual easing of demand poses a problem for the computer industry.
6: Types of computer
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The most commonly available type of computers are based on microprocessors. These are
called microcomputers or personaI computers (PCs). There are other types of computer
though, and you might like to be aware of these. However, don't get too bogged down in the
details - the important thing is that you have an appreciation of the different types of
computers and the tasks they might perform.
Mainframes were the dominant form of computing before microcomputers. They are usually
very expensive, powerful and operate specialist software. Mainframes are typically used by
large companies, public authorities and universities for their data handling tasks. These tasks
are typically:
- File maintenance: This is perhaps the most common use of mainframes. Maintaining
records is a huge task for institutions. Records can contain information on sales, credit card
status, payroll details, social security details, health records, stock inventory, etc. These
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either need to be accessed by different people in real-time (for instance a travel agent
booking an airline ticket) or updated in batches (for instance warehouse stock levels at the
end of each day). lt is necessary in such cases to have the data stored centrally and then
accessible by those who need it. A lot of minicomputers are now capable of performing these
tasks in medium-sized companies.
- Simulations: Many physical and engineering problems cannot be solved without the
help of complex computer simulations. These require intensive mathematical work, and so
take advantage of a mainframe's computational power. Examples include weather
forecasting, or calculating the position of astronomical bodies with extreme accuracy. Many
minicomputers or workstations are now used for this type of problem.
- General purpose: Many universities used a mainframe to act as a general purpose
computing facility. Each user can then be given their own area on the mainframe to store
files, and different departments can use its resources to perform different tasks, e.g.
predicting bird populations in the Biology department and calculating metal stress in the
Engineering Department. PCs are now used to perform many of these tasks. You will have
noticed that after each task l mentioned that other types of computer could now be found
performing these tasks. This indicates that the general growth in the mainframe area has
slowed and is even in decline, as smaller computers have become more powerful.
Mainframes are still required by many institutions, however, to perform large data handling
tasks. They are particularly useful when data needs to be held centrally, with different people
needing access to it. This is illustrated below:
Minicomputers are powerful, special-purpose computers. They were originally viewed as
small mainframes - hence the prefix 'mini'. However, they have become increasingly powerful
and have replaced mainframes for many functions. Examples include Digital Equipment's
VAX machines and lBM's AS/400s. Tasks minicomputers might be used for include:
- Plant control: Many industrial plants require a central computing facility to collect data
from various sensors and then to act accordingly. For example, in a chemical engineering
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plant, as the pressure in one vat increases the computer registers this, and opens a release
valve slightly while also adjusting the boiler temperature.
- Network control: Many computer networks need a central computer which provides
storage space and controls the network using special network software. This is known as a
server. The other computers which access the server are called clients. Such machines can
also act as the interface to the lnternet, accepting lnternet messages and hosting e-mail and
World Wide Web facilities. Powerful PCs can also be used to perform these functions.
- Databases: As mentioned above, the role of mainframes in file maintenance is
increasingly being taken by minicomputers. Minicomputers can hold databases of records
which appropriate people can access. For the general public it is PCs which tend to
symbolise computers. However, most 'heavy duty' computing is performed not by PCs but by
minicomputers. With the growth in networking computers in most institutions the role of
minicomputers has grown. lt is in this market that some of the largest software companies,
such as Novell who provide networking software and Oracle who supply database software,
do most of their business. The network model is shown below.
Workstations are based on specialised microprocessors and can be thought of as powerful
PCs. They are typically used for specialist engineering tasks. Workstations use a special type
of microprocessor known as a RISC (reduced instruction set computer) chip. This
technology, developed at lBM, removes many of the complex instructions from a
microprocessor and has instead a set of basic instructions, which perform their tasks very
quickly. This approach increases the speed and the power of the microprocessor, particularly
when dealing with numerical problems. The workstation market is dominated by SUN
Microsystems. They typically cost in the £10,000s, and can cost £100,000s. Tasks
workstations might be used for include:
- CAD/CAM: Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Manufacturing have been
growth industries since the mid-1980s. These technologies allow engineers to design
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complex machine parts without having to produce an actual physical model. The necessary
complex, 3-D graphics require a lot of computing power and good quality video capabilities.
- Animation: Similarly to CAD/CAM, animations require a lot of processing power which
must be performed quickly, and are ideally suited to the RlSC technology.
- Simulations: Performing simulations of processes, such as the behaviour of an
industrial plant, requires considerable computing power.
- Multitask programming: Any complex programming which is deemed to require more
power than is offered by a PC, and which needs to perform more than one task at a time
(called multitasking), is often performed on a workstation. Recent PC operating systems such
as Windows NT can also perform multitasking. The workstation will typically be part of a
network. Microcomputers are based on a microprocessor and are intended for individual use;
hence they are called personal computers, or PCs. They were initially standalone machines,
but are increasingly connected to a network. They are ideal for tasks such as those listed
below where the user requires individual computing power.
- Word processing: Word processing programs allow a user to produce
professional-looking documents, with different fonts, styles and pictures. The production of
complex and attractive documents is much easier with the use of word processing software
than it was in the days of the typewriter.
- Spreadsheets: Spreadsheets allow a user to create mathematical models. These are
particularly useful in financial planning and can be used to answer questions such as 'What
happens if we raise the cost of our product by 1%?'.
- Desktop pubIishing: This allows people to create drawings, manipulate images and
combine them with text to produce professional graphic design work, for instance magazine
layouts, posters, book covers, etc.
- Games: Although this may seem a non-serious use of computers, games represent a
large market. By making use of the PC's computing power very good quality graphics and
complex game play can be achieved.
- Servers: As mentioned above, many powerful PCs are now being used as servers to
control a network. Generally the tasks performed by the mainframes have been taken over
by minicomputers. PCs initially created a new type of usage for the computer; for instance,
spreadsheets and desktop publishing took over from activities previously performed by hand.
As PCs have increased in power they have begun to be used for some of the tasks that
required minicomputers and even mainframes in the past. With the increase in computer
power the distinction between types of computers is often difficult to maintain. When does a
PC become a workstation for instance? Remember, though, that having an appreciation of
the different types of computers and the tasks required of them is important, but you should
not get too bogged down in trying to categorise machines.
7: Summary
2007-03-27 16:35 - T171_PC
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ln this Unit you have covered some of the basic principles of how a computer operates, and
what its various components do. You have also met some of the terminology used in the
industry. ln this Unit you have covered:
- What software and hardware are.
- The different categories of software.
- What binary is, and how it relates to denary.
- How a computer uses bits to represent information.
- What analogue and digital mean.
- The main components of a computer and their functions.
- The factors that affect the power of a computer.
- The difference between mainframes, minis, workstations and PCs.
- Computer terminology, such as RAM, ROM, CPU, bytes, kilobytes, data, instructions,
l/O, motherboard, buses and words.
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