A PC is a general purpose tool built around a microprocessor.

It has lots of different parts -- memory, a hard disk, a modem, etc. -- that work together. "General purpose" means that you can do many different things with a PC. You can use it to type documents, send e-mail, browse the Web and play games.

On the Inside
Let's take a look at the main components of a typical desktop computer.

Central processing unit (CPU) - The microprocessor "brain" of the computer system is called the central processing unit. Everything that a computer does is overseen by the CPU. Memory - This is very fast storage used to hold data. It has to be fast because it connects directly to the microprocessor. There are several specific types of memory in a computer:

Random-access memory (RAM) - Used to temporarily store information that the computer is currently working with Read-only memory (ROM) - A permanent type of memory storage used by the computer for important data that does not change Basic input/output system (BIOS) - A type of ROM that is used by the computer to establish basic communication when the computer is first turned on Caching - The storing of frequently used data in extremely fast RAM that connects directly to the CPU

Virtual memory - Space on a hard disk used to temporarily store data and swap it in and out of RAM as needed Motherboard - This is the main circuit board that all of the other internal components connect to. The CPU and memory are usually on the motherboard. Other systems may be found directly on the motherboard or connected to it through a secondary connection. For example, a sound card can be built into the motherboard or connected through PCI. Power supply - An electrical transformer regulates the electricity used by the computer. Hard disk - This is large-capacity permanent storage used to hold information such as programs and documents. Operating system - This is the basic software that allows the user to interface with the computer. Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) Controller - This is the primary interface for the hard drive, CD-ROM and floppy disk drive.

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Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) Bus - The most common way to connect additional components to the computer, PCI uses a series of slots on the motherboard that PCI cards plug into. SCSI - Pronounced "scuzzy," the small computer system interface is a method of adding additional devices, such as hard drives or scanners, to the computer. AGP - Accelerated Graphics Port is a very high-speed connection used by the graphics card to interface with the computer. Sound card - This is used by the computer to record and play audio by converting analog sound into digital information and back again. Graphics card - This translates image data from the computer into a format that can be displayed by the monitor

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From Powering Up to Shutting Down
Now that you are familiar with the parts of a PC, let's see what happens in a typical computer session, from the moment you turn the computer on until you shut it down: 1. You press the "On" button on the computer and the monitor. 2. You see the BIOS software doing its thing, called the power-on self-test (POST). On many machines, the BIOS displays text describing such data as the amount of memory installed in your computer and the type of hard disk you have. During this boot sequence, the BIOS does a remarkable amount of work to get your computer ready to run.

The BIOS determines whether the video card is operational. Most video cards have a miniature BIOS of their own that initializes the memory and graphics processor on the card. If they do not, there is usually video-driver information on another ROM on the motherboard that the BIOS can load. The BIOS checks to see if this is a cold boot or a reboot. It does this by checking the value at memory address 0000:0472. A value of 1234h indicates a reboot, in which case the BIOS skips the rest of POST. Any other value is considered a cold boot. If it is a cold boot, the BIOS verifies RAM by performing a read/write test of each memory address. It checks for a keyboard and a mouse. It looks for a PCI bus and, if it finds one, checks all the PCI cards. If the BIOS finds any errors during the POST, it notifies you with a series of beeps or a text message displayed on the screen. An error at this point is almost always a hardware problem. The BIOS displays some details about your system. This typically includes information about the following:

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Processor Floppy and hard drive Memory BIOS revision and date Display

Any special drivers, such as the ones for SCSI adapters, are loaded from the adapter and the BIOS displays the information. The BIOS looks at the sequence of storage devices identified as boot devices in the CMOS Setup. "Boot" is short for "bootstrap," as in the old phrase "Lift yourself up by your bootstraps." Boot refers to the process of launching the operating system. The BIOS tries to initiate the boot sequence from the first device using the bootstrap loader.

3. The bootstrap loader loads the operating system into memory and allows it to begin operation. It does this by setting up the divisions of memory that hold the operating system, user information and applications. The bootstrap loader then establishes the data structures that are used to communicate within and between the sub-systems and applications of the computer. Finally, it turns control of the computer over to the operating system. 4. Once loaded, the operating system's tasks fall into six broad categories:

Processor management - Breaking the tasks down into manageable chunks and prioritizing them before sending to the CPU Memory management - Coordinating the flow of data in and out of RAM and determining when virtual memory is necessary Device management - Providing an interface between each device connected to the computer, the CPU and applications Storage management - Directing where data will be stored permanently on hard drives and other forms of storage Application Interface - Providing a standard communications and data exchange between software programs and the computer User Interface - Providing a way for you to communicate and interact with the computer

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5. You open up a word processing program and type a letter, save it and then print it out. Several components work together to make this happen:

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The keyboard and mouse send your input to the operating system. The operating system determines that the word-processing program is the active program and accepts your input as data for that program. The word-processing program determines the format that the data is in and, via the operating system, stores it temporarily in RAM. Each instruction from the word-processing program is sent by the operating system to the CPU. These instructions are intertwined with instructions from other programs that the operating system is overseeing before being sent to the CPU. All this time, the operating system is steadily providing display information to the graphics card, directing what will be displayed on the monitor. When you choose to save the letter, the word-processing program sends a request to the operating system, which then provides a standard window for selecting where you wish to save the information and what you want to call it. Once you have chosen the name and file path, the operating system directs the data from RAM to the appropriate storage device. You click on "Print." The word-processing program sends a request to the operating system, which translates the data into a format the printer understands and directs the data from RAM to the appropriate port for the printer you requested.

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6. You open up a Web browser and check out www.msn.com Once again, the operating system coordinates all of the action. This time, though, the computer receives input from another source, the Internet, as well as from you. The operating system seamlessly integrates all incoming and outgoing information. 7. You close the Web browser and choose the "Shut Down" option. 8. The operating system closes all programs that are currently active. If a program has unsaved information, you are given an opportunity to save it before closing the program. 9. The operating system writes its current settings to a special configuration file so that it will boot up next time with the same settings. 10. If the computer provides software control of power, then the operating system will completely turn off the computer when it finishes its own shutdown cycle. Otherwise, you will have to manually turn the power off.

A Fit for the Future?
Silicon microprocessors have been the heart of the computing world for more than 40 years. In that time, microprocessor manufacturers have crammed more and more electronic devices onto microprocessors. In accordance with Moore's Law, the number of electronic devices put on a microprocessor has doubled every 18 months. Moore's Law is named after Intel founder Gordon Moore, who predicted in 1965 that microprocessors would double in complexity every two years. Many have predicted that Moore's Law will soon reach its end because of the physical limitations of silicon microprocessors. Already we are seeing powerful computers in non-desktop roles. Laptop computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs) have taken computing out of the office. Wearable computers built into our clothing and jewelry will be with us everywhere we go. Our files will follow us while our computer provides constant feedback about our environment. Voice- and handwriting-recognition software will allow us to interface with our computers without using a mouse or keyboard. Magnetic RAM and other innovations will soon provide our PC with the same instant-on accessibility that our TV and radio have. One thing is an absolute certainty: The PC will evolve. It will get faster. It will have more capacity. And it will continue to be an integral part of our lives.

How Microprocessors Work
The computer you are using to read this page uses a microprocessor to do its work. The microprocessor is the heart of any normal computer, whether it is a desktop machine, a server, or a laptop. The microprocessor you are using might be a Pentium, a K6, a PowerPC, a Sparc or any of the many other brands and types of microprocessors, but they all do approximately the same thing in approximately the same way. If you have ever wondered what the microprocessor in your computer is doing, or if you have ever wondered about the differences between different microprocessors,

Microprocessor History
A microprocessor - also known as a CPU or Central Processing Unit - is a complete computation engine that is fabricated on a single chip. The first microprocessor was the Intel 4004, introduced in 1971. The 4004 was not very powerful - all it could do was add and subtract, and it could only do that four bits at a time. But it was amazing that everything was on one chip. Prior to the 4004, engineers built computers either from collections of chips or from discrete components (transistors wired one at a time). The 4004 powered one of the first portable electronic calculators. The first microprocessor to make it into a home computer was the Intel 8080, a complete 8-bit computer on one chip introduced in 1974. The first microprocessor to make a real splash in the market was the Intel 8088, introduced in 1979 and

All of these microprocessors are made by Intel and all of them are improvements on the basic design of the 8088. a microprocessor does three basic things: • Using its ALU (Arithmetic/Logic Unit). In the process you can also learn about assembly language . but the Pentium-III runs about 3. Based on the instructions. you know that the PC market moved from the 8088 to the 80286 to the 80386 to the 80486 to the Pentium to the Pentium-II to the new Pentium-III. but those are its three basic activities. Modern microprocessors contain complete floating point processors that can perform extremely sophisticated operations on large floating point numbers. A microprocessor can move data from one memory location to another A microprocessor can make decisions and jump to a new set of instructions based on those decisions. a microprocessor can perform mathematical operations like addition.000 times faster! Inside a Microprocessor To understand how a microprocessor works. If you are familiar with the PC market and its history. subtraction.the native language of a microprocessor . it is helpful to look inside and learn about the logic used to create one.and many of the things that engineers can do to boost the speed of a processor. The following diagram shows an extremely simple microprocessor capable of doing those three things: . A microprocessor executes a collection of machine instructions that tell the processor what to do.incorporated into the IBM PC (which first appeared in 1982 or so). multiplication and division. • • There may be very sophisticated things that a microprocessor does. The new Pentiums-IIIs can execute any piece of code that ran on the original 8088.

Let's assume that both the address and data buses are 8 bits wide in this example. The program counter is a latch with the extra ability to increment by 1 when told to do so. Here are the components of this simple microprocessor: • • Registers A. 16 or 32 bits wide) that can send data to memory or receive data from memory a RD (Read) and WR (Write) line to tell the memory whether it wants to set or get the addressed location a clock line that lets a clock pulse sequence the processor A reset line that resets the program counter to zero (or whatever) and restarts execution. . B and C are simply latches made out of flip-flops The address latch is just like registers A. and also to reset to zero when told to do so.This is about as simple as a microprocessor gets. This microprocessor has: • • • • • an address bus (that may be 8. B and C. 16 or 32 bits wide) that sends an address to memory a data bus (that may be 8.

subtract. Tell the address register to latch the value currently on the data bus. An ALU can normally compare two numbers and determine if they are equal. Tell the instruction register to latch the value currently on the data bus. The test register can also normally hold a carry bit from the last stage of the adder. Tell the program counter to increment Tell the program counter to reset to zero Activate any of the 6 tri-state buffers (6 separate lines) Tell the ALU what operation to perform Tell the test register to latch the ALUs test bits Activate the RD line Activate the WR line . multiply and divide 8-bit values. A tri-state buffer allows multiple outputs to connect to a wire. a 0 or it can essentially disconnect its output (imagine a switch that totally disconnects the output line from the wire the output is heading toward). • • • Although they are not shown in this diagram. there would be control lines from the instruction decoder that would: • • • • • • • • • • • • • Tell the A register to latch the value currently on the data bus.• • The ALU could be as simple as an 8-bit adder or it might be able to add. The test register is a special latch that can hold values from comparisons performed in the ALU. The instruction register and instruction decoder are responsible for controlling all of the other components. These are tri-state buffers. It stores these values in flip-flops and then the instruction decoder can use the values to make decisions. but only one of them to actually drive a 1 or a 0 onto the line. if one is greater than the other. There are 6 boxes marked "3-State" in the diagram. Tell the program counter register to latch the value currently on the data bus. Let's assume the latter here. etc. A tri-state buffer can pass a 1. Tell the C register to latch the value currently on the data bus. Tell the B register to latch the value currently on the data bus.

it's amazing how many different types of electronic memory you encounter in daily life.When you think about it. Many of them have become an integral part of our vocabulary: • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • RAM ROM Cache Dynamic RAM Static RAM Flash memory Memory sticks Volatile memory Virtual memory Video memory BIOS SIMM DIMM EDO RAM RAMBUS DIP You already know that the computer in front of you has memory. What you may not know is that most of the electronic items you use every day have some form of memory also. Here are just a few examples of the many items that use memory: • • • • • • • Computers Cell phones Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) Game consoles Car radios VCRs TVs .

When you open an application. the CPU accesses memory according to a distinct hierarchy.Each of these devices uses different types of memory in different ways! Memory Is at the Heart of Your Computer Although memory is technically any form of electronic storage. To conserve RAM usage. All of the components in your computer. the hard drive and the operating system. work together as a team. The CPU then stores pieces of data it will need to access often in a cache and maintains certain special instructions in the register. When the data are kept in memory. your CPU is constantly using memory. the critical parts of the OS are maintained in RAM as long as the computer is on. Plug and Play (auto device recognition) capability and a few other items. The BIOS provides the most basic information about storage devices. Generally. security. The computer loads the basic input/output system (BIOS) from ROM. and memory is one of the most essential parts of this team. boot sequence. the CPU can access data much more quickly. • • • . Let's take a look at a typical scenario: • • You turn the computer on. temporary forms of storage. it is used most often to identify fast. The computer loads data from read-only memory (ROM) and performs a power-on self-test (POST) to make sure all the major components are functioning properly. Most forms of memory are intended to store data temporarily. which enhances the performance and functionality of the overall system. As part of this test. The computer loads the operating system (OS) from the hard drive into the system's RAM. most data goes in random access memory (RAM) first. many applications load only the essential parts of the program initially and then load other pieces as needed. the memory controller checks all of the memory addresses with a quick read/write operation to ensure that there are no errors in the memory chips. Whether it comes from permanent storage (the hard drive) or input (the keyboard). This allows the CPU to have immediate access to the OS. We'll talk about each of these later. If your computer's CPU had to constantly access the hard drive to retrieve every piece of data it needs. it would operate very slowly. such as the CPU. From the moment you turn your computer on until the time you shut it down. Read/write means that data is written to a bit and then read from that bit. it is loaded into RAM. We discuss the BIOS in more detail in How Flash Memory Works.

If the CPU cannot get to the data it needs. using expensive memory in small quantities and then backing it up with larger quantities of less expensive memory. and then it and the application are purged from RAM. This simply means that it has been put in the computer's temporary storage area so that the CPU can access that information more easily.• • After an application is loaded. it is placed into RAM. it and any accompanying files are usually purged (deleted) from RAM to make room for new data. any files that are opened for use in that application are loaded into RAM. The cheapest form of read/write memory in wide use today is the hard disk. called virtual memory.potentially billions of bytes per second. . The problem that computer designers face is that memory that can keep up with a 1 gigahertz CPU is extremely expensive -.much more expensive than anyone can afford in large quantities. every time something is loaded or opened. but it can take a good bit of time (approaching a second) to read a megabyte off a hard disk. Hard disks provide large quantities of inexpensive. When an application is closed. Modern CPUs running at speeds like 1 gigahertz can consume massive amounts of data -. but several points about RAM are important here. In the list above. this shuffling of data between the CPU and RAM happens millions of times every second. The next level of the hierarchy is RAM. they are lost. We discuss RAM in detail in another article in this series. Computer designers have solved the cost problem by "tiering" memory. it literally stops and waits for it. In most computers. You can buy hard disk space for pennies per megabyte. Because storage space on a hard disk is so cheap and plentiful. When you save a file and close the application. processes it and writes new data back to RAM in a continuous cycle. The Need for Speed One common question about desktop computers that comes up all the time is. If the changed files are not saved to a permanent storage device before being purged. the file is written to the specified storage device. "why does a computer need so many memory systems?" A typical computer has: • • • • Level 1 and Level 2 caches Normal system RAM Virtual memory A hard disk Fast powerful CPUs need quick and easy access to large amounts of data in order to maximize their performance. The CPU requests the data it needs from RAM. permanent storage. it forms the final stage of a CPUs memory hierarchy.

. third and fourth numbers tell you how many cycles are needed to read each consecutive bit in the row. reading successive bits takes significantly less time.00000001/second but may take . For example. the lower these numbers are. This means that only the first bit is subject to the full effect of latency. For example: 5-1-1-1 tells you that it takes five cycles to read the first bit and one cycle for each bit after that.00000005/second to start the read process for the first bit. For example. Burst mode depends on the expectation that data requested by the CPU will be stored in sequential memory cells. To compensate for latency. RAMBUS. the second. RAM rated at 100 MHz is capable of sending a bit in . The rated burst mode of memory is normally expressed as four numbers separated by dashes. Bus width refers to the number of bits that can be sent to the CPU simultaneously. A bus cycle occurs every time data travels from memory to the CPU. Obviously. RAM doesn't usually operate at optimum speed. SDRAM. the better the performance of the memory. and a 64-bit CPU can process 8 bytes at a time. 800 million times per second (possibly more based on pipelining)! The goal of the memory system is to meet those requirements. If you do the math. a 100 MHz 32-bit bus is theoretically capable of sending 4 bytes (32 bits divided by 8 = 4) of data to the CPU one hundred million times per second while a 66 MHz 16-bit bus can send 2 bytes of data sixty-six million times per second. Most chips today operate with a cycle rate of 50 to 70 nanoseconds. The first number tells you the number of clock cycles needed to begin a read operation. the faster RAM is. Latency refers to the number of clock cycles needed to read a bit of information. so it reads several consecutive bits of data together. you'll find that simply changing the bus width from 16-bit to 32-bit and the speed from 66 MHz to 100 MHz in our example allows for three times as much data (400 million bytes versus 132 million bytes) to pass through to the CPU every second. also known as the wordline. so 16 bits divided by 8 = 2). such as DRAM. latency changes the equation radically. We will talk about these various types of memory later. in millions per second. That is why you need a cache (see the next section). Megahertz (MHz) is a measure of a CPU's processing speed. A computer's system RAM alone is not fast enough to match the speed of the CPU. or clock cycle. and bus speed refers to the number of times a group of bits can be sent each second. The read/write speed is typically a function of the type of RAM used. System RAM speed is controlled by Bus width and bus speed. a 16-bit CPU can process 2 bytes at a time (1 byte = 8 bits. So. the better. In reality. However.The bit size of a CPU tells you how many bytes of information it can access from RAM at the same time. CPUs uses a special technique called burst mode. a 32-bit 800 MHz Pentium III can potentially process 4 bytes simultaneously. The memory controller anticipates that whatever the CPU is working on will continue to come from this same series of memory addresses. For example.

for each memory cell. between two states. so always look for synchronized SRAM. The level 2 cache has a direct connection to the CPU. Without the need for constant refreshing. This means that it does not have to be continually refreshed like DRAM. Synchronous SRAM is designed to exactly match the speed of the CPU while asynchronous is not. You can't use memory designed to work at 100 MHz in a 66 MHz system or 32-bit memory with a 16-bit CPU. Many high performance CPUs now have the level 2 cache actually built into the CPU chip itself. data needed by the CPU is accessed from the cache approximately 95 percent of the time. another means of minimizing the effects of latency. or flip-flops. Level 1 cache is very small. . So why wouldn't you buy the fastest. A dedicated integrated circuit on the motherboard. it still takes longer for data to get from the memory card to the CPU than it takes for the CPU to actually process the data. sends the current word or words to the CPU and writes one or more words to memory cells. It has an external gate array known as a bistable multivibrator that switches. Caches are designed to alleviate this bottleneck by making the data used most often by the CPU instantly available. is used primarily for cache. SRAM uses multiple transistors. burst mode and pipelining can dramatically reduce the lag caused by latency.Burst mode is often used in conjunction with pipelining. widest memory you can get? The speed and width of the memory's bus must match the system's bus. typically four to six. regulates the use of the level 2 cache by the CPU. But the complexity of each cell make it prohibitively expensive for use as standard RAM. right into the CPU. the size of the level 2 cache and whether it is onboard (on the CPU) is a major determining factor in the performance of a CPU. Matching the CPU's clock speed is a good thing. please read How Caching Works. Therefore. Some inexpensive systems dispense with the level 2 cache altogether. That little bit of timing makes a difference in performance. Cache and the Registers Even with a wide and fast bus. The SRAM in the cache can be asynchronous or synchronous. known as primary or level 1 cache. static random access memory (SRAM). Used together. greatly reducing the overhead needed when the CPU has to wait for data from the main memory. The memory controller simultaneously reads one or more words from memory. A particular type of RAM. the size of the level 2 cache ranges from 256K to 2MB. Depending on the CPU. normally ranging between 2K and 64K The secondary or level 2 cache typically resides on a memory card located near the CPU. In most systems. For more details on caching. the L2 controller. SRAM can operate extremely fast. Pipelining organizes data retrieval into a sort of assembly line process. Each cell will maintain its data as long as it has power. This is accomplished by building a small amount of memory.

A number of types of memory fall into this category. it is emptied. The capacitor holds the bit of information -. Dynamic RAM has to be dynamically refreshed all of the time or it forgets what it is holding.a 0 or a 1 (see How Bits and Bytes Work for information on bits). A capacitor is like a small bucket that is able to store electrons. either the CPU or the memory controller has to come along and recharge all of the capacitors holding a 1 before they discharge. In a matter of a few milliseconds a full bucket becomes empty. Most types of RAM fall into this category. Nonvolatile memory does not lose its data when the system or device is turned off. These are memory cells built right into the CPU that contain specific data needed by the CPU. Other articles in this series will cover these types of memory. SAM stores data as a series of memory cells that can only be accessed sequentially (like a cassette tape). The opposite of RAM is serial access memory (SAM). for dynamic memory to work. Volatile memory loses any data as soon as the system is turned off. Types of Memory Memory can be split into two main categories: volatile and nonvolatile. it requires constant power to remain viable. dynamic random access memory (DRAM). This refresh operation is where dynamic RAM gets its name. It needs to be refreshed periodically or it will discharge to 0. particularly the arithmetic and logic unit (ALU). To store a 0. which represents a single bit of data. RAM is considered "random access" because you can access any memory cell directly if you know the row and column that intersect at that cell. How RAM Works Similar to a microprocessor. This refresh operation happens automatically thousands of times per The capacitor in a dynamic RAM memory cell is like a leaky bucket. Therefore. the bucket is filled with electrons. In the most common form of computer memory. The transistor acts as a switch that lets the control circuitry on the memory chip read the capacitor or change its state. To store a 1 in the memory cell. a memory chip is an integrated circuit (IC) made of millions of transistors and capacitors. The most familiar is ROM. but Flash Memory storage devices such as CompactFlash or SmartMedia cards are also forms of nonvolatile memory. See How Microprocessors Work for details on registers. The . A good example is the texture buffer memory on a video card. SAM works very well for memory buffers. The problem with the capacitor's bucket is that it has a leak. To do this. the memory controller reads the memory and then writes it right back.The final step in memory is the registers. An integral part of the CPU itself. If the data is not in the current location. each memory cell is checked until the needed data is found. where the data is normally stored in the order it will be used. a transistor and a capacitor are paired to create a memory cell. they are controlled directly by the compiler that sends information for the CPU to process.

the sense-amplifier determines the level of charge in the capacitor. speed and amount of memory and checking for errors. Therefore static RAM is used to create the CPU's speed-sensitive cache. Other functions of the memory controller include a series of tasks that include identifying the type. Memory Modules Memory chips in desktop computers originally used a pin configuration called dual inline package (DIP). and that makes static RAM a lot more expensive. This makes static RAM significantly faster than dynamic RAM. Memory cells alone would be worthless without some way to get information in and out of them. a static memory cell takes a lot more space on a chip than a dynamic memory cell. This pin configuration could be soldered into holes on the computer's motherboard or plugged into a socket that was soldered on the motherboard. A memory chip rating of 70ns means that it takes 70 nanoseconds to completely read and recharge each cell. Static RAM uses a completely different technology. The counter tracks the refresh sequence based on which rows have been accessed in what order. When reading. In static RAM. This method worked fine when computers typically operated on a . Memory cells are etched onto a silicon wafer in an array of columns (bitlines) and rows (wordlines). the row lines contain the state the capacitor should take on. So the memory cells have a whole support infrastructure of other specialized circuits. These circuits perform functions such as: • • • • identifying each row (row address select or RAS) and column (column address select or CAS) keeping track of the refresh sequence (counter) reading and restoring the signal from a cell (sense amplifier) telling a cell whether it should take a charge or not (write enable). Therefore you get less memory per chip. However. because it has more parts. and dynamic RAM is less expensive and slower. but never has to be refreshed. If it is more than 50% it reads it as a 1. When writing. a form of flipflop holds each bit of memory A flip-flop for a memory cell takes 4 or 6 transistors along with some wiring. The intersection of a bitline and wordline constitutes the address of the DRAM works by sending a charge through the appropriate column (CAS) to activate the transistor at each bit in the column.downside of all of this refreshing is that it takes time and slows down the memory. otherwise as a zero. The length of time necessary to do all this is so short that it is expressed in nanoseconds (billionths of a second). So static RAM is fast and expensive. while dynamic RAM forms the larger system RAM space.

Then came SIMM. along with all of the support components. Memory chips are normally only available as part of a card called a module.couple of megabytes or less of RAM.5 inches by . This memory board used a 30-pin connector and was about 3. we need to divide our result of 128 by 8. here are SIMM.75 inches (about 9 centimeters by 2 centimeters) in size. Multiply 4 by 32 and you get 128 megabits. meaning that different computer manufacturers developed memory boards that would only work with their specific systems. Take the result and divide it by eight to get the number of megabytes on that module. which stands for single inline memory module. For example. on a separate printed circuit board (PCB) that could then be plugged into a special connector (memory bank) on the motherboard. Most of these chips use a small outline J-lead (SOJ) pin configuration but quite a few From the top. The first types were proprietary. not inserted in holes or sockets. The key difference between these newer pin types and the original DIP configuration is that SOJ and TSOP chips are surface-mounted to the PCB. You've probably seen memory listed as 8x32 or 4x16. Since we know a byte has eight bits. DIMM and SODIMM memory modules. These numbers represent the number of the chips multiplied by the capacity of each individual chip. but as the need for memory grew. the pins are soldered directly to the surface of the board. which is measured in megabit (Mb). 4x32 means that the module has four 32-megabit chips. In most computers. Our result is 16 megabytes! The type of board and connector used for RAM in desktop computers has evolved over the past few years. the number of chips needing space on the motherboard increased. The solution was to place the memory chips. manufacturers use the thin small outline package (TSOP) configuration as well. . or one million bits. you had to install SIMMs in pairs of equal capacity and speed. In other words.

SODIMM cards are small. but several manufacturers use RAM based on the small outline dual in-line memory module (SODIMM) configuration. is comparable in size and pin configuration to DIMM but uses a special memory bus to greatly increase speed. With a tape. Most PC memory modules operate at 3.5 centimeters). An interesting fact about the Apple iMac desktop computer is that it uses SODIMMs instead of the traditional DIMMs. Each SIMM could send 8 bits of data at one time while the system bus could handle 16 bits at a time.the magnetic medium can be easily erased and rewritten. Hard Disk Basics Hard disks were invented in the 1950s. For example. This can take several minutes with a long • . you would install two 8 megabyte (MB) SIMMs to get 16 megabytes total RAM. about 2 inches by 1 inch (5 centimeters by 2.25 inches by 1 inch (about 11 centimeters by 2. the industry adopted a new standard in dual in-line memory module (DIMM).This is because the width of the bus is more than a single SIMM. as opposed to the flexible plastic film found in tapes and floppies. a hard disk is not that different from a cassette tape. They later became known as "hard disks" to distinguish them from "floppy disks. In a hard disk. and it will "remember" the magnetic flux patterns stored onto the medium for many years. At the simplest level. Capacity ranges from 16MB to 256MB per module. Many brands of notebook computers use proprietary memory modules.4 inches by 1 inch (about 14 centimeters by 2. Hard disks and cassette tapes also share the major benefits of magnetic storage . and have 144 pins.3 volts while Mac systems typically use 5 volts. As processors grew in speed and bandwidth capability. Let's look at the big differences between the cassette tapes and hard disks so you can see how they differ: • The magnetic recording material on a cassette tape is coated onto a thin plastic strip. the magnetic recording material is layered onto a high-precision aluminum or glass disk. They started as large disks up to 20 inches in diameter holding just a few megabytes. Later SIMM boards. The hard disk platter is then polished to mirror smoothness. With a whopping 168-pin connector and a size of 5. used a 72-pin connector for increased bandwidth and allowed for up to 256MB of RAM.5 centimeters). slightly larger at 4. They were originally called "fixed disks" or "Winchesters" (a code name used for a popular IBM product)." Hard disks have a hard platter that holds the magnetic medium. Rambus in-line memory module (RIMM). DIMMs range in capacity from 8MB to 128MB per module and can be installed singly instead of in pairs. you have to fast-forward or reverse through the tape to get to any particular point on the tape. A new standard.5 centimeters).

a file is simply a string of bytes. or they could be the pixel colors for a GIF image. Data is stored onto the disk in the form of files. however. There are two ways to measure the performance of a hard disk: • • The data rate . A file is simply a named collection of bytes.08 cm) per second. • In a cassette tape deck. The tape in a cassette tape deck moves over the head at about 2 inches (about 5. or they could be the instructions of a software application for the computer to execute. A hard disk platter can spin underneath its head at speeds up to 3. No matter what it contains.000 inches per second (about 170 MPH or 272 KPH)! The information on a hard disk is stored in extremely small magnetic domains compared to a cassette tape's. a modern hard disk is able to store an amazing amount of information in a small space. In a hard disk the read/write head "flies" over the disk. Rates between 5 and 40 megabytes per second are common. A hard disk can also access any of its information in a fraction of a second. so this is not something to try at home unless you have a defunct drive. The bytes might be the ASCII codes for the characters of a text file. or they could be the records of a data base. When a program running on the computer requests a file. • • Because of these differences. Inside a Hard Disk The best way to understand how a hard disk works is to take a look inside. A typical desktop machine will have a hard disk with a capacity of between 10 and 40 gigabytes. Times between 10 and 20 milliseconds are common. The seek time .the number of bytes it can hold. On a hard disk you can move to any point on the surface of the disk almost instantly. The size of these domains is made possible by the precision of the platter and the speed of the media.tape.] Here is a typical hard disk drive: . The other important parameter is the capacity of the drive . the hard disk retrieves its bytes and sends them to the CPU one at a time. never actually touching it.the amount of time it takes between the time that the CPU requests a file and the first byte of the file starts being sent to the CPU. [Note that opening a hard disk ruins it.the number of bytes per second that the drive can deliver to the CPU. the read/write head touches the tape directly.

It is a sealed aluminum box with controller electronics attached to one side. The electronics control the read/write mechanism and the motor that spins the platters. The electronics are all contained on a small board that detaches from the rest of the drive: . The electronics also assemble the magnetic domains on the drive into bytes (reading) and turn bytes into magnetic domains (writing).

as well as a highly-filtered vent hole that lets internal and external air pressures equalize: Removing the cover from the drive reveals an extremely simple but very precise interior: .Underneath the board are the connections for the motor that spins the platters.

. The arm and its movement mechanism are extremely light and fast. This arm is controlled by the mechanism in the upper-left corner.200 RPM when the drive is operating. These platters are manufactured to amazing tolerances and are mirror smooth (as you can see in this interesting self-portrait of the author.. The arm on a typical hard disk drive can move from hub to edge and back up to 50 times per second . actually!) The arm that holds the read/write heads. which typically spin at 3.it is an amazing thing to watch! • In order to increase the amount of information the drive can store. This drive has three platters and six read-write heads: .600 or 7. and is able to move the heads from the hub to the edge of the drive. most hard disks have multiple platters.In this picture you can see: • The platters. No easy way to avoid that.

the same technique used to move the cone of a speaker on your stereo moves the arm . It can be constructed using a high-speed linear motor. Many drives use a "voice coil" approach .The mechanism that moves the arms on a hard disk has to be incredibly fast and precise.

It's the software that enables all the programs we use. The operating system organizes and controls the hardware on our desks and in our hands. into the sectors. The operating system defines our computing experience. a typical sector is shown in blue. and the last software we see when the computer is turned off. 256 or 512. It's the first software we see when we turn on the computer. and sectors are pie-shaped wedges on a track. High-level formatting then writes the file-storage structures. sectors are often grouped together into clusters. Either at the drive or the operating system level. It's the software that enables all the programs we use. yet most users can't say with any certainty precisely what it is that the operating system does.for example. A sector contains a fixed number of bytes -. The operating system defines our computing experience. Tracks are concentric circles. This process prepares the drive to hold files. . It's the first software we see when we turn on the computer.Storing the Data Data is stored on the surface of a platter in sectors and tracks. This process prepares the drive to hold blocks of bytes. and the last software we see when the computer is turned off. like the file allocation table. The process of low-level formatting a drive establishes the tracks and sectors on the platter. like this: A typical track is shown in yellow. The starting and ending points of each sector are written onto the platter.

it is the power supply. is for changing line voltages in various countries. the power supply is the metal box usually found in a corner of the case. The power supply converts the alternating current (AC) line from your home to the direct current (DC) needed by the personal computer. The small.The operating system organizes and controls the hardware on our desks and in our hands. Without it. red switch at right. above the power-cord connector. yet most users can't say with any certainty precisely what it is that the operating system does. a computer is just an inert box full of plastic and metal. . Power Supply In a personal computer (PC). If there is any one component that is absolutely vital to the operation of a computer. The power supply is visible from the back of many systems because it contains the power-cord receptacle and the cooling fan. This is a power supply removed from its PC case. The interior of a power supply.

A watt is the product of the voltage in volts and the current in amperes or amps. The push button sends a 5-volt signal to the power supply to tell it when to turn on. Common Motherboard Items A motherboard is a multi-layered printed circuit board. you probably remember that the original PCs had large red toggle switches that had a good bit of heft to them.3. Various circuit cards performing various functions all plug into many similar sockets on a common circuit board. Motherboards (also called mainboards) are actually a carryover from architecture used for years in mainframe computers. often referred to as "switching power supplies". Copper circuit paths . Multiple-lane highways of various widths transport data between the buildings. use switcher technology to convert the AC input to lower DC voltages. called VSB for "standby voltage" even when it is officially "off". The operating system can send a signal to the power supply to tell it to turn off. The main specification of a power supply is in watts. The typical voltages supplied are: • • • 3. Today you turn on the power with a little push button. Think of a motherboard as a scale model of a futuristic city with many modular plug-in buildings. These switches actually controlled the flow of 120 volt power to the power supply. and you turn off the machine with a menu option. Due to improvements in circuitry and packaging. When you turned the PC on or off. If you have been around PCs for many years.Power supplies. motherboards have essentially stayed the same size or shrunk (in square inches). you knew you were doing it. The motherboard is the data and power infrastructure for the entire computer. These capabilities were added to standard power supplies several years ago. so that the button will work. The power supply also has a circuit that supplies 5 volts. while their functionality has skyrocketed in the past 20 years.and 5-volts are typically used by digital circuits. each using power from a common electrical system.3 volts 5 volts 12 volts The 3. The motherboard has been an integral part of most personal computers for more than 20 years. Each circuit card performs a unique function in the computer and gets its power from the socket as well. while the 12-volt is used to run motors in disk drives and fans.

32 bits Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) . The Pentium processors. The insulated layers are manufactured into one complete. most personal computers have one or more of the following storage devices: • floppy drive . That is the width of the data highway that goes in and out of the processor. Typical bus names and widths (in bits) are: • • • • • • Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) .32 or 64 bits Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP ) .8 or16 bits Microchannel Architecture (MCA) . however. processor and memory buses while other layers can carry voltage and ground returns without circuit paths short-circuiting at intersections. your hard drive is an important part of your system. complex "sandwich. In fact.called traces that resemble a complicated roadmap carry signals and voltages across the motherboard.32 bits No matter what you do with your computer." Chips and sockets are soldered onto the motherboard. do use 32-bit registers to handle 32-bit instructions. you will typically find: • • • • • • • • • one or more microprocessors a basic input/output system chip (BIOS) memory slots a chip set that adds lots of features like I/O ports and controllers peripheral component interconnect (PCI) adapter card slots industry standard architecture (ISA) adapter slots accelerated graphics port (AGP) video card slots universal serial bus (USB) ports cooling fan(s) on heat sinks of processor and some video cards Data Bus Width Modern Pentium class motherboards have a data bus with 64 bits. Bus speeds and widths have increased due to faster processors and the needs of multimedia applications.16 or 32 bits VESA Local Bus (VLB) . Layered fabrication techniques are used so that some layers of a board can carry data for the input/output.8 or 16 bits Extended Industry Standard Architecture (EISA) . For example.

IDE is actually not the true technical name for the interface standard. signified that the interface was initially developed for the IBM AT computer. In other words. a controller from one manufacturer might not work with a hard drive from someone else. this caused much frustration for computer users. Essentially. Before IDE. The basic concept behind IDE is that the hard drive and the controller should be combined. controllers and hard drives were separate and often proprietary. Evolution IDE was created as a way to standardize the use of hard drives in computers. an IDE interface is a standard way for a storage device to connect to a computer. Obviously. The controller is a small circuit board with chips that provide guidance to exactly how the hard drive stores and accesses the data. The distance between the controller and the hard drive could result in poor signal quality and affect performance. . Most controllers also include some memory that acts as a buffer to enhance hard drive performance.• • hard drive CD-ROM drive The hard drive and circuit board combination that typify IDE devices Usually these devices connect to the computer through an Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) interface. AT Attachment (ATA). The original name.

IBM also offered a hard drive for the AT that used a new combined drive and controller. which checks to see if it is currently communicating with the computer. giving birth to the AT Attachment (ATA) interface. IBM introduced the AT computer in 1984 with a couple of key innovations. • In 1986. Because the controller is integrated with the drive. To allow for two drives on the same cable. but adding support for a second drive on the same cable took some ingenuity. The new bus was capable of transmitting information 16 bits at a time compared to 8 bits on the original ISA bus. IDE became the term to cover the entire range of integrated drive/controller devices. A ribbon cable from the drive/controller combination ran to an ISA card to connect to the computer. • The slots in the computer for adding cards used a new version of the ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) bus.The birth of the IDE interface led to combining a controller like this one with a hard drive. the two terms are used interchangeably. Before long. This configuration allows one drive's controller to tell the other drive when it can transfer data to or from the computer. Most motherboards come with dual IDE interfaces (primary and secondary) for up to four IDE devices. What happens is the slave drive makes a request to the master drive. other vendors began offering IDE drives. Compaq introduced IDE drives in their Deskpro 386. If the master drive is idle. This drive/controller combination was based on the ATA standard developed by IBM. IDE uses a special configuration called master and slave. Since almost all IDE drives are ATA-based. it tells the . This is not a problem as long as each device is on a separate interface. there is no overall controller to decide which device is currently communicating with the computer. Masters and Slaves A single IDE interface can support two devices.

Since the other drive received no signal. SASI was originally developed in 1981 by Shugart Associates in conjunction with NCR Corporation. Each drive's controller board looks at the jumper setting to determine whether it is a slave or a master. it tells the slave drive to wait and then informs it when it is done. depending on the drive. that checks to see if a slave drive is present. With the correct type of IDE ribbon cable. a jumper on the back of the drive next to the IDE connector must be set in the correct position to identify the drive as the master drive. There are several benefits of SCSI: • • It's fast -. the slave drive is attached to the connector near the middle of the IDE ribbon cable. these drives can be auto configured as master or slave. If only one drive is installed. Wide or Ultra? SCSI is based on an older.up to 160 megabytes per second (MBps). Every drive is capable of being either slave or master when you receive it from the manufacturer. That drive then configures itself as the master drive. it should always be the master drive. . When your computer is powered up. A jumper on each drive is set to the CS option. it defaults to slave mode. Many drives feature an option called Cable Select (CS). it is recommended that the master drive is attached to the connector at the very end of the IDE ribbon cable. This tells them how to perform. The cable itself is just like a normal IDE cable except for one difference. the IDE interface sends a signal along the wire for Pin 28. a modified version of SASI that provided a beefier. Although it will work in either position. Pin 39 carries a special signal. open system was ratified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as SCSI. The computer determines if there is a second (slave) drive attached through the use of Pin 39 on the connector. It's reliable. In 1986. Fast. Pin 28 only connects to the master drive connector. CS works like this. If the master drive is communicating with the computer. called Drive Active/Slave Present (DASP). The slave drive must have either the master jumper removed or a special slave jumper set. Then. Only the drive attached to the master connector receives the signal. proprietary bus interface called Shugart Associates System Interface (SASI).slave drive to go ahead. Also.

It has limited system BIOS support. the 18 commands considered an absolute necessity for support of any SCSI device. People are often confused by the different types of SCSI. Some computers have a built-in SCSI controller. SCSI-2: An update that became an official standard in 1994. You'll hear terms such as "Ultra. Finally. connectors) can be bewildering. and sometimes in combinations." "Fast" and "Wide" used a lot. It works on most computer systems. A key component of SCSI-2 was the inclusion of the Common Command Set (CCS). or do both (Fast/Wide SCSI). . There are also some potential problems when using SCSI: • • • • It must be configured for a specific computer. You also had the option to double the clock speed from 5 MHz (million cycles per second) to 10 MHz (Fast SCSI). There are really only three basic specifications of SCSI: • • SCSI-1: The original specification developed in 1986. but most require an SCSI host-adapter card. SCSI-2 added command queuing.• • It allows you to put multiple devices on one bus. double the bus width from 8 bits to 16 bits and increase the number of devices to 15 (Wide SCSI). which means that an SCSI-2 device can store a series of commands from the host computer and determine which ones should be given priority. Its variations (speeds. There is no common software interface.

On most computers. . The Fast and Wide designations work just like their SCSI-2 counterparts. SCSI-3 is not considered to be a completely approved standard. some of the specifications developed within it have been officially adopted. debuting in 1995. Ultra2 for SPI-2 variations and Ultra3 for SPI-3 variations). The interesting thing about SCSI-3 is that a series of smaller standards have been built within its overall scope. It takes the digital information that the computer produces and turns it into something human beings can see. with the Fast designation meaning that the clock speed is double that of the base version.• SCSI-3: Quickly on the heels of SCSI-2 came SCSI-3. on laptops. and the Wide designation meaning that the bus width is double that of the base. the data remains digital because laptop displays are digital. The graphics card plays an essential role in the PC. These standards are based on variations of the SCSI Parallel Interface (SPI). Most SCSI-3 specifications begin with the term "Ultra" (Ultra for SPI variations. which is the way that SCSI devices communicate with each other. Instead. the graphics card converts digital information to analog information for display on the monitor. Because of this continually evolving series.

a pixel can be one of 256 colors. These dots are called pixels. on the original Macintosh). Graphics cards are known by many names. the pixels could have just two colors -. such as: • • • • • • Video cards Video boards Video display boards Graphics boards Graphics adapter cards Video adapter cards . Most of these graphics processors have special command sets for graphics manipulation built right into the chip. the pixels are full-color (also known as true color) and have 16. On some screens (for example.8-million colors is more than enough for most people.RADEON™ 64-MB AGP Graphics Card If you look at the screen of a typical PC very closely. On many screens. The goal of a graphics card is to create a set of signals that display the dots on the computer screen What is a Graphics Card? A modern graphics card is a circuit board with memory and a dedicated processor.8-million possible shades. Since the human eye can only discern about 10-million different colors. On some screens today. and each pixel has a color.black or white. you can see that all of the different things on the screen are made up of individual dots. The processor is designed specifically to handle the intense computational requirements of displaying graphics. 16.

You need (480 X 80) 34. The memory holds the color of each pixel. How Graphics Cards Work You can better understand the essence of a graphics card by looking at the simplest possible one. This means that the graphics card scans the entire memory array 1 bit at a time and does this 60 times per second. as well as synchronization signals for horizontal and vertical sync Let's say that the screen is refreshing at 60 frames per second. it does this repeatedly for all 480 lines.Today's graphics cards are computing systems in their own right. you need just 1 bit to store each pixel's color Since a byte holds 8 bits. It sends signals to the monitor for each pixel on each line. it does it in one of two ways. When a graphics card handles color. Here are the three basic components of a graphics card and what they do: • Memory: The first thing that a graphics card needs is memory. you can begin to see why they are so powerful today. you need (640/8) 80 bytes to store the pixel colors for one line of pixels on the display. Video Interface: The next thing that the graphics card needs is a way to generate the signals for the monitor. A true-color card devotes 3 or 4 bytes per pixel (4 bytes allows an extra byte for an "alpha . Computer Interface: The second thing a graphics card needs is a way for the computer to change the graphics card's memory. The computer can send signals through the bus to alter the memory. This is normally done by connecting the graphics card to the card bus on the motherboard. and then sends a horizontal sync pulse. By understanding the evolution of graphics cards. But these cards started out as very simple devices. memory and video interface. • • • • The basic parts of a graphics card are computer interface. and it would do that on a 640x480-pixel screen.800 bytes of memory to hold all of the pixels visible on the display. and then sends a vertical sync pulse. The card must generate color signals that drive the cathode ray tube (CRT) electron beam. In the simplest case. since each pixel is only black or white. This card would be able to display only black or white pixels.

this adds up to about 8-million bytes of video memory. Mice come in all shapes and sizes. and since then they have helped to completely redefine the way we use computers! Every day of your computing life. On a 1600x1200-pixel display. Given that people naturally point at things -. . The early text terminals did nothing more than emulate a teletype (using the screen to replace paper). Although originally conceived in the 1960's. Full screen editors were the first things to take real advantage of the cursor keys. and they offered humans the first crude way to point. it took quite some time for mice to become mainstream. Mice first broke onto the public stage with the introduction of the Apple Macintosh in 1984. so it was many years (well into the 1960s and early 1970s) before arrow keys were found on most terminals.usually before they speak -. This is an older two-button mouse chosen for its simplicity. Your mouse senses your motion and your clicks and sends them to the computer so it can respond appropriately. In the beginning there was no need to point because computers used crude interfaces like teletype machines or punch cards for data entry. Evolution It is amazing how simple and effective a mouse is. and it is also amazing how long it took mice to become a part of everyday life.channel"). you reach out for your mouse whenever you want to move your cursor or activate something.it is surprising that it took so long for a good pointing device to develop.

Modems came into existence in the 1960s as a way to allow terminals to connect to computers over the phone lines. Compared to a graphics tablet. central computer.Light pens were used on a variety of machines as a pointing device for many years. When the user typed a character on the terminal. A modem is typically used to send digital data over a phone line. None of these really took off as the pointing device of choice. A dumb terminal is simply a keyboard and a screen. mice came into the PC world very quickly. There is something about it that is completely natural. When personal computers started appearing in the late 1970s. A person would set up a computer with a modem or two and some BBS software. . When the mouse hit the scene attached to the Mac. a dumb terminal at an off-site office or store could "dial in" to a large. The 1960s were the age of time-shared computers.1 made Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) a standard. so a business would often buy computer time from a time-share facility and connect to it via a 300 bit-per-second (BPS) modem. Wireless modems are also frequently seen converting data into radio signals and back. The Origin of Modems The word modem is a contraction of the words modulator-demodulator. it was an immediate success. The VT-100 could display 25 lines of 80 characters each. however. joy sticks and various other devices were also popular in the 1970s. The users would run terminal emulators on their computers to emulate a dumb terminal. The sending modem modulates the data into a signal that is compatible with the phone line. mice are extremely inexpensive and they take up very little desk space. bulletin board systems became the rage. mainly because of a lack of support in the operating system. and the receiving modem demodulates the signal back into digital data. The computer would then send the character back to the computer so it would appear on the screen. Mice in the PC world took longer to gain ground. Once Windows 3. A typical arrangement is shown below: In a configuration like this. the modem sent the ASCII code for the character to the computer. and graphics tablets. and it became a standard of the day (now memorialized in terminal emulators worldwide). A very common dumb terminal at the time was called the DEC VT-100. and other people would dial in to connect to the bulletin board.

became the standard in 1998 ADSL.1960s through 1983 or so 1200 bit per second .2K bit per second 28. The reason this speed was tolerable was because 300 BPS represents about 30 characters per second. 300 BPS became intolerable.People got along at 300 BPS for quite awhile.6K bit per second 56K bit per second . Once people started transferring large programs and images to and from bulletin board systems. however.first appeared in late 1990 and early 1991 19. For instance.gained popularity in 1984 and 1985 2400 bit per second 9600 bit per second .8K bit per second 33. But the keyboard is an amazing piece of technology. did you know that the keyboard on a typical computer system is actually a computer itself? . and that is much faster than a person can type characters or read.just appearing in any real numbers in 1999. The part of the computer that we come into most contact with is probably the piece that we think about the least. Modem speeds went through a series of steps at two year or so intervals: • • • • • • • • • 300 bit per second . at something approaching 10M BPS .

Also. many system manufacturers add specialty buttons to the standard layout. In fact. A typical keyboard has four basic types of keys: • • • • Typing keys Numeric keypad Function keys Control keys The typing keys are the section of the keyboard that contain the letter keys. generally laid out in the same style that was common for typewriters. Types of Keyboards Keyboards have changed very little in layout since their introduction.Your basic Windows keyboard At its essence. a keyboard is a series of switches connected to a microprocessor that monitors the state of each switch and initiates a specific response to a change in that state. This layout. was originally designed to slow down fast typists by making the arrangement of the keys somewhat awkward! The reason that typewriter manufacturers did this was because the mechanical arms that imprinted each character on the paper could jam together if . known as QWERTY for the first six letters in the layout. The most common keyboards are: • • • • 101-key Enhanced keyboard 104-key Windows keyboard 82-key Apple standard keyboard 108-key Apple Extended keyboard Portable computers such as laptops quite often have custom keyboards that have slightly different key arrangements than a standard keyboard. the most common change has simply been the natural evolution of adding more keys that provide additional functionality.

Because it has been long established as a standard. so did the need for speedy data entry. The numeric keypad is a part of the natural evolution mentioned previously. The control keys allow the user to make large jumps in most applications. Critics of the QWERTY layout have adopted another layout. that places the most commonly used letters in the most convenient arrangement. and people have become accustomed to the QWERTY configuration. The function keys. could be assigned specific commands by the current application or the operating system. Control keys provided cursor and screen control.the keys were pressed too rapidly. a set of 17 keys was added to the keyboard. arranged in a line across the top of the keyboard. even though jamming is no longer an issue. Four keys arranged in an inverted T formation between the typing keys and numeric keypad allow the user to move the cursor on the display in small increments. These keys are laid out in the same configuration used by most adding machines and calculators. In 1986. IBM extended the basic keyboard with the addition of function and control keys. Since a large part of the data was numbers. to facilitate the transition to computer for clerks accustomed to these other machines. As the use of computers in business environments increased. An Apple Extended keyboard. Dvorak. Common control keys include: • • • • • • • • Home End Insert Delete Page Up Page Down Control (Ctrl) Alternate (Alt) . manufacturers developed keyboards for computers using the same layout.

The Apple keyboards are specific to Apple Mac systems. The character map is basically a comparison chart for the processor that tells it what the key at x. When it finds a circuit that is closed." . The amount of bounce and how to filter it. the processor compares that combination with the character map and produces a capital letter "A. and an Application key. such as: • • • Position of the key in the key matrix. The key matrix is the grid of circuits underneath the keys. In all keyboards except for capacitive ones. pressing the a key by itself would result in a small letter "a" being sent to the computer.y coordinates in the key matrix represents.• Escape (Esc) The Windows keyboard adds some extra control keys: two Windows or Start keys. The microprocessor and controller circuitry of a keyboard. Pressing the key bridges the gap in the circuit. If more than one key is pressed at the same time. allowing a tiny amount of current to flow through. it compares the location of that circuit on the key matrix to the character map in its ROM. The processor monitors the key matrix for signs of continuity at any point on the grid. each circuit is broken at the point below a specific key. If you press and hold down the Shift key while pressing the a key. Inside the Keyboard The processor in a keyboard has to understand several things that are important to the utility of the keyboard. The speed at which to transmit the typematics. For example. the processor checks to see if that combination of keys has a designation in the character map.

the processor in the keyboard is analyzing the key matrix and determining what characters to send to the computer. known as bounce. Keyboards rely on switches that cause a change in the current flowing through the circuits in the keyboard. . there are utilities for changing the character map from the traditional QWERTY to DVORAK or another custom version. Therefore. It maintains these characters in a buffer of memory that is usually about 16 bytes large. It then sends the data in a stream to the computer via some type of connection. the delay between each instance of a character can normally be set in software. This is known as typematics. If you continue to hold down a key. typically ranging from 30 characters per second (cps) to as few as two cps From the Keyboard to the Computer As you type.A look at the key matrix. This is done quite often in languages whose characters do not have English equivalents. the processor determines that you wish to send that character repeatedly to the computer. The character map in the keyboard can be superseded by a different character map provided by the computer. Also. In this process. it filters all of the tiny fluctuations out of the signal and treats it as a single keypress. there is usually a small amount of vibration between the surfaces. When the key presses the keyswitch against the circuit. The processor in a keyboard recognizes that this very rapid switching on and off is not caused by you pressing the key repeatedly.

but an increasing number of new systems are dropping the PS/2 connectors in favor of USB. No matter which type of connector is used. The first is power for the keyboard. When the operating system is notified that there is data from the keyboard. The most common keyboard connectors are: • • • • 5-pin DIN (Deustche Industrie Norm) connector 6-pin IBM PS/2 mini-DIN connector 4-pin USB (Universal Serial Bus) connector internal connector (for laptops) Normal DIN connectors are rarely used anymore. This is an integrated circuit (IC) whose job is to process all of the data that comes from the keyboard and forward it to the operating system.A PS/2 type keyboard connector. The other end of the cable connects to a port that is monitored by the computer's keyboard controller. A good example of this is Ctrl-Alt-Delete on a Windows computer. in order to function. . Keyboards require a small amount of power. which initiates a reboot. two principal elements are sent through the connecting cable. typically about 5 volts. Most computers use the miniDIN PS/2 connector. a number of things can happen: • It checks to see if the keyboard data is a system level command. The cable also carries the data from the keyboard to the computer.

The current application understands the keyboard data as an applicationlevel command. as do some printers. The current application is able to accept keyboard data as content for the application (anything from typing a document to entering a URL to performing a calculation). An example of this would be Alt . USB ports are only a few years old. Serial ports lower cable costs and make cables smaller. it takes a byte of data and transmits the 8 bits in the byte one at a time. The name "serial" comes from the fact that a serial port "serializes" data. PDAs and digital cameras. That is. . The really amazing thing is how quickly all of this happens. Parallel ports are a more recent invention and are much faster than serial ports. such as modems. Although many of the newer systems have done away with the serial port completely in favor of USB connections.• • The operating system then passes the keyboard data on to the current application. Considered to be one of the most basic external connections to a computer. The advantage is that a serial port needs only one wire to transmit the 8 bits (while a parallel port needs 8). to your computer. The disadvantage is that it takes 8 times longer to transmit the data than it would if there were 8 wires. All computer operating systems in use today support serial ports. the serial port has been an integral part of most computers for more than 20 years. Two serial ports on the back of a PC Essentially. or The current application does not accept keyboard data and therefore ignores the information. which opens the File menu in a Windows application. most modems still use the serial port. because serial ports have been around for decades. and will likely replace both serial and parallel ports completely over the next several years. Few computers have more than two serial ports. • • Once the keyboard data is identified as either system-specific or applicationspecific. serial ports provide a standard connector and protocol to let you attach devices.f. it is processed accordingly.

meaning that information could only travel in one direction at a time. A typical parallel port on the back of your computer. The UART chip takes the parallel output of the computer's system bus and transforms it into serial form for transmission through the serial port. also called communication (COM) ports. can reach data transfer rates of 460 Kbps.Before each byte of data. Serial devices use different pins to receive and transmit data -. While USB is becoming increasingly popular. Using different pins allows for full-duplex communication. are bi-directional. such as Enhanced Serial Port (ESP) and Super Enhanced Serial Port (Super ESP). which is a single bit with a value of 0. This 40-pin Dual Inline Package (DIP) chip is a variation of the National Semiconductor NS16550D UART chip. most UART chips have a built-in buffer of anywhere from 16 to 64 kilobytes. the parallel port is still the most used interface for printers. In order to function faster. While most standard serial ports have a maximum transfer rate of 115 Kbps (kilobits per second). in which information can travel in both directions at once. It may also send a parity bit. Parallel ports are used to connect a host of popular computer peripherals: • Printers . Serial ports rely on a special controller chip. the Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter (UART). If you have a printer connected to your computer. there is a very good chance that it uses the parallel port. high speed serial ports. This buffer allows the chip to cache data coming in from the system bus while it is processing data going out to the serial port. Serial ports. to function properly. a serial port sends a start bit. it sends a stop bit to signal that the byte is complete. Bidirectional communication allows each device to receive data as well as transmit it. After each byte of data.using the same pins would limit communication to half-duplex.

• • • • • • Scanners CD-writers External hard drives Iomega Zip removable drives Network adapters Tape backup drives Parallel Port Basics Parallel ports were originally developed by IBM. DB-25. it sends eight bits of data (one byte) at a time. the company wanted the computer to work with printers offered by Centronics. When IBM was in the process of designing the PC. a top printer manufacturer at the time. as a way to connect a printer to your PC. When a PC sends data to a printer or other device using a parallel port. Otherwise. IBM decided not to use the same port interface on the computer that Centronics used on the printer. as opposed to the same eight bits being transmitted serially (all in a single row) through a serial port. And all of these parts need to communicate with each other in a fast and efficient manner. These eight bits are transmitted parallel to (beside) each other. The standard parallel port is capable of sending 50 to 100 kilobytes of data per second There are a lot of incredibly complex components in a computer. with a 36-pin Centronics connector to create a special cable to connect the printer to the computer. . the amazing speed and capabilities of each individual component is lost in the whole. Instead. IBM engineers coupled a 25-pin connector. Other printer manufacturers ended up adopting the Centronics interface. making this strange hybrid cable an unlikely de facto standard.

A typical computer has two key buses. Essentially. connects the microprocessor (central processing unit) and the system memory. As the speed of central processing units (CPUs) and RAM increased. fast channel between the CPU and the Level 2 cache.A typical PCI card That's where the bus comes in. Most computers sold today still have an Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) bus that will accept computer cards developed for the original IBM PC in the early 1980s. connect to the system bus through a bridge. The frontside bus connected the system memory. There have been a couple of key reasons for this bus longevity: • • There is a need for long-term compatibility with a large number of hardware manufacturers. it became more important to isolate the path between processor and memory. few hardware peripherals fully utilized the speed of the bus. Even so. integrating the data from the other buses to the system bus. to the CPU. Hop on the Bus. Before the rise of multimedia. the evolution of the bus has been surprisingly slow compared to other technologies. was created. Gus Buses have grown and evolved over the years in an effort to match the performance of all the other computer components. Other buses. a bus is the channel or path between the components in a computer. via the memory controller. such as the ISA and PCI buses. called Dual Independent Bus (DIB). which is a part of the computer's chipset and acts as a traffic cop. and the other buses to the CPU and system memory. A replacement for the standard system bus. . known as the system bus or local bus. The backside bus had one purpose: to provide a direct. The first one. There are many different types of buses. DIB replaced the single system bus with a frontside bus and a backside bus.

meaning it could process 8 bits of data in each cycle. it improved to 16 bits at 8 MHz and officially became known as ISA. The other main bus. the VL-Bus was typically used only for connecting a graphics card. fast enough even for many of today's applications. which was normally the speed of the processor itself. . Key among these were Extended Industry Standard Architecture (EISA) -. As technology advanced and the ISA bus grew long in the tooth. Along Comes PCI During the early 1990s. Intel introduced a new bus standard for consideration. These devices includes such items such as: • • • • • • Modem Hard drive Sound card Graphics card Controller card Scanner The original PC bus operated at 4. Because of this. The cool thing about VL-Bus (named after VESA.which was 32 bits at 8 MHz-. is for connecting additional components to the computer. This bus design is capable of passing along data at a rate of up to 16 MBps (megabytes per second).and Vesa Local Bus (VLBus). The VL-Bus essentially tied directly into the CPU. a component that really benefits from high-speed access to the CPU. It is called a shared bus because it lets multiple devices access the same path to the CPU and system memory. In 1982. the shared bus.77 MHz (million cycles per second) and was 8 bits wide. This worked okay for a single device.The illustration above shows how the various buses connect to the CPU. which created the standard) is that it was 32 bits wide and operated at the speed of the local bus. But connecting more than two devices to the VL-Bus introduced the possibility of interference with the performance of the CPU. or maybe even two. other buses were developed. the Video Electronics Standards Association.

although this is rarely done. but uses a bridge to connect to the frontside bus and therefore to the CPU. PCI cards use 47 pins. Also. PCI supports devices that use either 5 volts or 3. which means that the device sends more than one signal over a single pin. up to five external components. Currently. PCI presents a hybrid of sorts between ISA and VL-Bus. Each of the five connectors for an external component can be replaced with two fixed devices on the motherboard. PCI-X provides for 64-bit transfers at a speed of 133 MHz for an amazing 1-GBps (gigabyte per second) transfer rate! PCI cards use 47 pins to connect (49 pins for a mastering card. PCI can connect more devices than VL-Bus. Also. provided system-level support for PnP. This provides a higher degree of reliability and ensures that PCI-hardware manufacturers know exactly what to design for. But it wasn't until several years later that a mainstream operating system. very quickly supplanting ISA as the bus of choice. Plug and Play Plug and Play (PnP) means that you can connect a device or insert a card into your computer and it is automatically recognized and configured to work in your system. but it took a concerted effort on the part of the computer industry to make it happen. To fully implement PnP requires three things: . PnP is a simple concept. PCI originally operated at 33 MHz using a 32-bit-wide path.3 volts. The PCI bus is able to work with so few pins because of hardware multiplexing. you can have more than one PCI bus on the same computer. The PCI bridge chip regulates the speed of the PCI bus independently of the CPU's speed. Basically.the Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI). Intel created the PnP standard and incorporated it into the design for PCI. Windows 95. which can control the PCI bus without CPU intervention). The introduction of PnP accelerated the demand for computers with PCI. Revisions to the standard include increasing the speed from 33 MHz to 66 MHz and doubling the bit count to 64. It provides direct access to system memory for connected devices. this means that it is capable of even higher performance than VL-Bus while eliminating the potential for interference with the CPU.

Many devices are assigned a section of system memory for exclusive use by that device. Variations in the software routines used by PnP BIOS developers.• PnP BIOS . • • PnP automates several key tasks that were typically done either manually or with an installation utility provided by the hardware manufacturer. For example.A file that contains information about installed PnP devices. that supports PnP. Direct memory access (DMA) . every hardware component needed a separate IRQ setting. allowing it to use a single system IRQ for multiple PCI devices. You open up your computer's case and plug the sound card into an empty PCI slot on the motherboard. PnP handlers in the operating system complete the configuration process started by the BIOS for each PnP device.The core utility that enables PnP and detects PnP devices. Before PCI. is used by the various parts of a computer to get the attention of the CPU. Here's an example of how it would work. the mouse sends an IRQ every time it is moved to let the CPU know that it's doing something. The BIOS also reads the ESCD for configuration information on existing PnP devices.Any operating system. Memory addresses . it is not infallible. But PCI manages hardware interrupts at the bus bridge." But the overall effect of PnP has been to greatly simplify the process of upgrading your computer to add new devices or replace existing ones. PCI device manufacturers and Microsoft have led many to refer to PnP as "Plug and Pray.This setting defines the ports used by the device for receiving and sending information. How It Works Let's say that you have just added a new PCI-based sound card to your Windows 98 computer. • • • While PnP makes it much easier to add devices to your computer.An IRQ.This simply means that the device is configured to access system memory without consulting the CPU first. This ensures that the hardware will have the needed resources to operate properly. Input/Output (I/O) configuration . These tasks include the setting of: • Interrupt requests (IRQ) . also known as a hardware interrupt. 1. PnP operating system . . Extended System Configuration Data (ECSD) . such as Windows 95/98/ME.

Windows 98 boots up. The sound card responds by identifying itself. You may be asked to insert a disk with the driver on it or tell Windows where to find the driver software. 3. there is no existing ESCD record for it. memory address and I/O settings to the sound card and saves the data in the ESCD. It does this by sending out a signal to any device connected to the bus. The PnP BIOS assigns IRQ. 2. Since the sound card was just installed. . You close the computer's case and power up the computer. The PnP BIOS checks the ESCD to see if the configuration data for the sound card is already present. DMA. The PnP BIOS scans the PCI bus for hardware. The operating system detects that the sound card is a new device and displays a small window telling you that Windows has found new hardware and is determining what it is. It checks the ESCD and the PCI bus. asking the device who it is. 8. The system BIOS initiates the PnP BIOS. 9.This motherboard has four PCI slots. it provides a dialog window so that you can specify what type of device it is and load a driver to run it. 4. 6. If it is able to determine what the device is. 5. The device ID is sent back across the bus to the BIOS. it displays the name of the device and attempts to install the driver (the software that enables the device to communicate with the operating system). If Windows cannot determine what the device is. 7.

Since the sound card is in record mode. The system bus saves the data in system memory. In our example.10. 12. It also checks to see if data is going directly to the CPU or to system memory. Once the driver is installed. Once the recording is complete. . 13. the bus controller assigns a high priority to the data coming from it and sends the sound card's data over the bus bridge to the system bus. The audio comes into the sound card via an external audio connector. The digital audio data from the sound card is carried across the PCI bus to the bus controller. 11. you can decide whether the data from the sound card is saved to a hard drive or retained in memory for additional processing. Some devices may require that you restart the computer before you can use them. The sound card converts the analog signal to a digital signal. the device should be ready for use. the sound card is immediately ready for use. You want to capture some audio from an external tape deck that you have plugged into the sound card. The controller determines which device on the PCI device has priority to send data to the CPU. 15. 14. You set up the recording software that came with the sound card and begin to record.

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