You are on page 1of 10

What is a computer?

A computer is a machine that manipulates data according to a list of instructions.

A computer can also be defined as an electronic machine that accepts input (data), processes
it and gives out results(information)
Computer organization at a glance
A basic computer consists of three major components: CPU (Central Processing Unit), IO
(Input/Output), and Memory as illustrated in Figure

Data comes through Input and the CPU processes the data based on a program, which is in
Memory. The result is returned to Memory or is presented to the user.
CPU itself consists of Arithmetic and Logic Unit (ALU), Control Unit(CU) and Registers.

A Computer-based system

A Computer-based system is a system in which a computer is involved and consists of three

major elements: Hardware, Software, and User. The elements of a computer based system
are described in the three following scenarios:

1. Registration in a University
Hardware = Micro computers, Network platform, and a Server Computer
Software = Student Registration Application, Database, and Operating System
User = Operators, Administrators
2. Controlling a section of an Assembly Line
Hardware = A specially embedded system which is developed for this purpose
Software = The machine code Loaded on the Embedded system Memory
User = Other Machine, Supervisor
3. Playing a game with a Computer
Hardware = Game Console such as XBox, Playstation
Software = The Game itself
User = The little kid
History of Computers

Charles Babbage, who is accredited with first conceptualizing

the programmable computer [Charles_babbage]. Ada Lovelase, a
mathematician who helped Charles Babbage by being the first

A model of Joseph Jacquard's loom

A replica of the Z1, a mechanical computer created by Konrad Zuse in 1936

Computer types
1. Supercomputer
2. Mainframe
3. Workstation
4. The Personal Computer or PC
5. Microcontroller
6. Server


The Columbia Supercomputer - once one of the

Supercomputers are fast because they are many
computers working together.
Supercomputers were introduced in the 1960's as
the worlds most advanced computer. These
computers were used for intense calculations such
as weather forecasting and quantum physics.
Today, supercomputers are one of a kind, fast, and
very advanced. As on November 2007, the fastest
supercomputer is the IBM Blue Gene/L; it's 65,536 computers, each with two processors. It
has a processing rate of 478.2 TFLOPS (TFLPOS= FLoating point Operations Per Second
and 1 TFLOPS at 3.13 GHz).


Mainframes are computers where all the processing

is done centrally, and the user terminals are called
"dumb terminals" since they only input and output
(and do not process).
Mainframes are computers used mainly by large
organizations for critical applications, typically bulk
data processing such as census. Examples: banks,
airlines, insurance companies, and colleges.


Sun SPARCstation
Workstations are high-end, expensive computers that are
made for more complex procedures and are intended for
one user at a time. Workstation Some of the complex
procedures consist of science, math and engineering
calculations and are useful for computer design and
Workstations are sometimes improperly named for
marketing reasons. Real workstations are not usually
sold in retail.
The movie Toy Story was made on a set of Sun (Sparc)
workstations -Perhaps the first computer that might
qualify as a "workstation" was the IBM 1620
The Personal Computer or PC

A personal computer (PC) is an abbreviation for a

Personal Computer, it is also known as a Microcomputer.
Its physical characteristics and low cost are appealing and
useful for its users. The capabilities of a personal
computer have changed greatly since the introduction of
electronic computers. Today, people in academic or
research institutions have the opportunity for single-
person use of a computer system in interactive mode for
extended durations.


Microcontrollers are mini computers that enable

the user to store data, do simple commands and
tasks, with little or no user interaction with the
processor. These single circuit devices have
minimal memory and program length but can be
integrated with other processors for more complex
The smallest category of computer is called an
embedded computer, which is another term for
Microcontrollers are important; they are used
everyday in devices such as appliances and


A server is a central computer that contains collections of

data and programs. Also called a network server, this
system allows all connected users to share and store
electronic data and applications. Two important types of
servers are file servers and application servers.

Hardware and software


Hardware refers to the physical elements of a computer.

That is the machinery or the equipment of the computer.
Examples of hardware in a computer are the keyboard,
the monitor, the mouse and the processing unit
However, most of a computer's hardware cannot be
seen; in other words, it is not an external element of the
computer, but rather an internal one, surrounded by the
computer's casing. A computer's hardware is comprised
of many different parts, but perhaps the most important
of these is the motherboard. The motherboard is made up of even more parts that power
and control the computer.
In contrast to software, hardware is a physical entity, while software is a non-physical entity.
Hardware and software are interconnected, without software, the hardware of a computer
would have no function. However, without the creation of hardware to perform tasks
directed by software via the central processing unit (box), software would be useless.
Software, commonly known as programs, consists of all the electronic instructions that tell
the hardware how to perform a task. These instructions come from a software developer in
the form that will be accepted by the operating system that they are based on. For example, a
program that is designed for the windows operating system will only work for that operating
system. Software can also be described as a collection of routines, rules and symbolic
languages that direct the functioning of the hardware.
Software is capable of performing specific tasks, as opposed to hardware, which only
perform mechanical tasks that they are mechanically designed for. Practical computer
systems divide software systems into three major classes:
1) System software: Helps run computer hardware and computer system. Computer
software includes operating systems, device drivers, diagnostic tools and more.
2) Programming software: Software that assists a programmer in writing computer
3) Application software: Allows users to accomplish one or more tasks. The term
"software" is sometimes used in a broader context to describe any electronic media
content which embodies expressions of ideas such as film, tapes, records, etc.
Software is the electronic instruction that tells the computer to do a task.

Firmware is both hardware and software.

It is a computer chip that performs only one function.
Examples are a video card and sound card.
Can be explained as programming instructions that are stored in
a read-only memory and can only be used by connecting them
with software. Used so that processing happens quicker as in
video and sound cards.

Processor Logic gates (on and off makes computers work)


A transistor is an electrically operated logic gate or switch

that alternates between "on" and "off" millions of times
per second. May be used in many different digital and
analog functions due to its fast response and accuracy.
Transistor (Using Information Technology: A Practical
Introduction to Computers & Communications, p 191) It
is made of a semiconductor Transistors (silicon) so that it
CAN allow electron flow when turned "on", but not allow
it when it is turned off. Only an electrically charged
center will allow electrons to flow. Transistors are used to
amplify or switch electronic signals.
Integrated Circuit

An integrated circuit is a mini electronic circuit which consists

of multiple transistors. More transistors close together
increased capability and consumed little power. Integrated
circuits were invented in 1958.
Integrated circuits contain solid state technology, which is
usually silicon. The main advantages of integrated circuits
were there cost and performance.


A microprocessor is a great integrated circuit of millions

of transistors and other devices, yet on a small chip. It
functions as a storage unit, processor, and is central to the
computer . The most important parts are the transistors,
which operate as a control switch to help process data.
One or more microprocessors serve as the processing
elements of a computer system Microprocessor. A
microprocessor was introduced to the computer system in
the mid-1970s. Microprocessor


Binary code: Binary numeral system is using two

symbols, usually "0" and "1". A binary numbers can be
represented by bits. Binary refers to the system of
information transfer through the processor. The binary
code occurs in digits of 0 and 1.
A bit is short for binary digit. Each bit can be a 0 or a 1.
A computer understands 0's as an electrical circuit that
is turned off and 1's as an electrical circuit that is turned
on. All information and programs on a computer are
represented by these bits. A bit is the smallest
representative value of data. The bit is also a unit of measurement, the information capacity
of one binary digit. It has the symbol bit, and less formally "b". The unit is also known as the
Shannon, with symbol "Sh". The first known binary numbers were introduced by an Indian
mathematician Pingala and it was written in Hindu numbers. Binary_numeral_system

Byte: A byte is 8 bits, a number between 0 and 255 (28=256).

It is symbolized by a capital B. These bits are combined in groups to represent numbers,

letters, or special characters. Bytes are also used to represent the capacity of the
computer's memory, whether in KB or MB . In system programming languages, the
byte is one of the basic integral data types.
Otherwise known as K, KB, Kbyte and kB. A kilobyte is used as computer storage that is
equal to 1000 bytes. In reality a kilobyte equals 1024 bytes. 210 = 1024 bytes.

MB A megabyte 1MB = 1024 KB 1 MB equals about 500 pages of text.

The most common size for RAM nowadays is 1 GB (1024 MB) sticks which is in the main
stream pricing range.
1 TB = 1024 GB

a KB consists of 1024 bytes , a MB of 1024 KB ...(GB , TB ...)

Primary memory has direct link with input unit and output unit. It stores the input data,
calculation results. This primary memory is classified into two types of memory as follows :
(i) Random Access Memory (RAM)
As the name indicates, this memory is used to read and write at any part of the memory. But
it stores the data temporarily till the steady flow of electricity. The data in RAM is lost, as
soon as the power supply is off. So, RAM is also called volatile
memory. In computer systems, two types of RAM is found :
(a) Dynamic RAM (DRAM) : DRAM needs to be refreshed every
time a new data is stored or more than 1000 times per second.
(b) Static RAM (SRAM) : It is required to refresh rarely. So, it is
faster than DRAM. It is more expensive than DRAM.
(ii) Read Only Memory (ROM)
This memory allows read only operation on data. It is a memory
chip having pre-recorded data provided by manufacturing
company. The data written on the ROM-chip can not be removed.
So, it stores the data permanently within itself, without being
effected by power-supply failure. Hence, it is called Non-Volatile Memory. A small ROM
chip is the integral part of most of the computers having the special programs (used for
booting, i.e., start-up of the computer). There are various types of ROM available as
follows :
(a) PROM (Programmable Read Only Memory) : PROM chip allows to store the
programs/data only once onto itself. These program/data remain in the memory always. It is
previous manufactured blank, but later the programs are written on this memory.
(b) EPROM (Electrically Programmable Read Only Memory) : It is a special type of
memory, whose contents can be reprogrammed by exposing it to UV light.
(c) EEPROM (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory) : This memory
can be erased by electrical charge. Data can be erased as required. But data can be written
only once. The reprogramming is possible.
(d) Flash Memory : It is the extension of EEPROM in which the reprogramming or erasing
is done on a block of memory (differing from EEPROM).
We have studied that primary memory is not able to store the calculations permanently for
future use. So, some other type of storage technology is required to store the data
permanently for a long time. This type of storage technology is known as Secondary
Memory or Auxiliary Memory. There are various types of secondary storage devices
available to store the data. These devices allow to read from or write anywhere in memory.
The scored data can be read in future also. These devices are also helpful for data
transferring from one computer system to another, because these are easily detachable from
CPU; while RAM chips are not easy to detach. These devices also work as the back up
devices which means storing data at one another place for safety. Commonly used secondary
storage devices are magnetic tape, magnetic disk, optical disk, etc.

Storage (where's all that information kept)

Computer storage is often referred to as secondary memory. It is where data is more
permanently stored.

Magnetic storage

Floppy disks

A "floppy disk" (or diskette) is a form of magnetic data

storage; thin, flexible,soft, flat piece of mylar plastic, packaged
in a 3.5 inch plastic case. The reason it was called a floppy is
because obsolete (8 and 5.25 inch formats) types would "flop"
as you waved them. Floppy disks were invented by IBM and
were a popular form of data storage from the 1970's to the
1990's. The key to their widespread use was their inexpensive
cost and ease of portability. Information could be transferred
to a floppy disk, stored, disk removed, then inserted into
another system to then be accessed.
Although there was a variety of different sizes of floppy disks produced by various
manufacturers, the most widely used was the 3.5 X 5.25 inch. (As identified below) It is a
form of secondary "permanent" storage and can hold approximately 1.44 MB. The disk is
inserted into a floppy disk drive, a device that holds, spins, reads data from, and writes data
to a floppy disk.
With the new systems now available, the demise of the floppy disk was inevitable. It has
been replaced by CD, CD-ROM and USB Drives. It is deemed "evil" because of its
unreliability and small size. However, the floppy disk has not lost its use totally, the very
image of the floppy disk has become a symbol for saving data in programs. It has managed
to maintain its portability and popularity in a different way.

Hard drives
A hard-disk drive is non-volatile device used for storage that is located inside the computer
case. Like the floppy drive, it holds its data on rotating platters with a magnetic upper
exterior which are changed or read by electromagnetic tipped arms that move over the disk
as it spins.
A hard drive is also known as a hard disk or fixed disk drive. Hard disks are most
commonly used for secondary storage.
Tape drives
A tape drive is a storage device that uses a streaming magnetic tape to store data. Instead of
allowing random-access to data, tape drives only allow sequential-access to data. It must
wind between reels to find any particular piece of data at any given time.
Tape drives are used for archival storage of data stored on hard drives
Optical strategies
CD pressing is having the CD stamped or plated instead of laser encoding. Check out this
informative video which features how mass production CD pressing is conducted:
Burning is a process in which a CD is written using indentations that are burned onto the
disc. You can burn onto a variety of devices, such as CD-R, CD-RW and DVD-R. (DVD=
Digital versatile disk). This process happens with the use of red or blue lasers. Some
burnable devices are rewritable (CD-RW) and some are permanent (CD-R).
Sides and layers
DVD's are capable of writing and reading two different layers on both sides of the disc.
If both sides of a DVD are used, this double layer can be duplicated again, creating four data
layers. This form of disc can hold over 4.7GB of information.
Blu-Ray uses a blue violet laser. The laser enables many functions of a video such as
recording, rewriting and playback. Much more data can be stored on a Blu-Ray disc than on
a regular DVD, over five times the amount of data that a single layer DVD. It also has a duel
layer version. Blu-Ray is a new optical disc standard based on the use of a blue laser rather
than the red laser of DVD players. The standard was developed collaboratively by Hitachi,
LG, Matsushita (Panasonic), Pioneer, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Thomson. Toshiba
and NEC are among the companies promoting a competitive optical format, HD-DVD.
The most flexible storage device. Flash would be considered as a secondary storage. It's a
non-volatile computer memory which does not lose it's information when power is lost. It is
a technology that is primarily used in memory cards to transfer data between computer and
other digital products such as a PDA (personal digital assistant), digital camera, digital
camcorder, and etc. The flash memory drive comes in many forms such as a jump drive, use
flash drive, and etc.

Case (and what's inside)

A motherboard is a piece of hardware in a computer which is the central circuit board. A
motherboard provides the electrical and logical connections by which the other components
of the system communicate. A few examples would be the main memory, extra storage,
video and sound.
Ports: Dedicated; Serial; Parallel; SCSI USB
USB is one of the most successful interconnect in computing history. It operates at 480
Mbps and can be found in over 2 billion PC, CE, and mobile devices. USB has strong
consumer brand recognition and a reputation for ease-of-use.
Slots are an opening in a computer where a circuit board can be inserted to add new
capabilities. All personal computers contain expansion slots for adding more memory,
graphics capabilities, and support for special devices.
Graphics card

Graphics Card
Graphic cards- are also called video card's or a video adapter. They are in all PCs. Graphic
cards covert signals into video signals so the images can be displayed on the monitor.
Different graphics cards are used for different purposes. Leading manufactures include ATI
Graphics cards are designed to offload rendering from the CPU. The fastest graphics card in
mass production today is the Nvidia GeForce 280. This is suitable for gamers and
enthusiasts. It will cost well over $300. Graphics cards are powered by the motherboard and
require a PCIX or PCIX 2.0 slot to install. Some cards require more power and thus will
need a 6-8 pin connector that runs directly to the power supply. Graphics cards also include
on board memory for efficient rendering. Typical sizes include 128-1024mb of memory.
Today, high end graphics cards have multiple core processors that are largely parallel to
increase texture fill and process more 3D objects in real time.

Sound card

Close-up of a Sound Card

A sound card, also referred to as an audio card facilitates the input and output of audio
signals to and from a computer under the control of computer programs. Sound cards for
computers were uncommon until 1988, which left the single internal PC speaker as the only
way early PC software could produce sound and music.
Uses of a sound card include the audio component's for multimedia applications such as
games, video/audio editing software and music composition. Most computers today have
sound capabilities built in, while others require additional expansion cards.

Network Interface Card

Network Interface Cards - A network card, network adapter, LAN Adapter or NIC (network
interface card) is a piece of computer hardware designed to allow computers to communicate
over a computer network. Used for remote communication via cable. Data is transmitted
over a cable network. The NIC connects computers and other devices such as printers.
PC card
A PC card is a peripheral interface device that is located on the side of a typical laptop
computer. Originally used as a memory expansion tool; the PC card has many uses such as
the use to house network cards, modems, and hard disks.