You are on page 1of 5

Computer Components In this topic we are going to look at what happens inside the computer.

When you take the computer out of its box, you will find that instead of the box being crammed full of electronics, it is mostly empty space. That is why a laptop is of manageable size. Even so, the PC is a miracle of miniaturisation; the early computers of thirty years ago would have been the size of a building. The first thing we come across the power supply. It is usually in its own separate box, primarily to protect the engineer poking about inside the computer from mains voltages. Also the metal box screens the components from any electromagnetic radiation coming from the power supply. This could interfere with the workings of the computer. The fan is there to keep the power supply cool. It converts the high voltage (230 V) alternating current to a safe 12 volts direct current. The power supply is complex because it needs to supply a very stable voltage, otherwise the computer could be disrupted and crashes. It is a good idea to protect the computer to prevent a high voltage spike from doing serious damage to the computer. Question 1 Why is the power supply separate from the motherboard? ANSWER The main circuit board is called the motherboard. The circuitry is quite complex with lots of chips on it. Unlike simpler electronic circuits, the motherboard is built up of a number of different layers. Problems with the motherboard are usually impossible to fix, and its far easy and cheaper to buy a new motherboard, at a cost of 75 to 100, not vastly expensive considering what it is. On the motherboard is found:

every thing gets lost when you turn off the computer. Here is a card (circuit board) with RAM chips that give 2 megabytes of RAM, pretty primitive. Question 4. Explain what the risks are of not saving your work regularly. ANSWER CPU The CPU processes the data by adding binary numbers. It does subtractions by a process of complimentary addition. It multiplies by serial addition and divides by serial complimentary addition. The moving scenery in a flight simulator is the result of these additions. Many other complex things done by computers are the result of these additions, done up to 2000 million times a second. Computer Architecture The term computer architecture describes the layout of the machine. All computers use the von Neumann model, named after the American who suggested it. The diagram shows the basic idea.

The RAM (random access memory), usually about 256 megabytes of memory. RAM is very fast, and feeds the CPU with the data it is working on.

y y y y

The ROM (read only memory) is a chip which is used to get the computer working as soon as its turned on. This chip is often called the BIOS (basic input output system), and contains the fundamental data needed for the computer to be able to work. The CPU (central processing unit), the brain of the computer. It is a single large chip with many connectors. It has a heatsink on top, often with a fan, which keeps it cool. If it gets hot, it may go into thermal runaway and be destroyed. There is a temperature detector to prevent this by turning the CPU off before hand. Expansion ports are provided. These are connectors to various different devices such as a graphics card, a sound card, or a modem. Question 2 In the picture below, label the components. Two have been done as an example. Graphics Card The picture below shows a video graphics card. The graphics card translates digital signals from the CPU into analogue signals which are further processed by the monitor to give us a picture. The earliest graphics cards did only black and white. 256 colours came in the eighties. Nowadays the standard is 32-bit, which gives 16 million colours. Some can offer 64-bit colour, which gives huge numbers of colours, but not many monitors can achieve this resolution. Each colour is given an 8-bit code (i.e. eight binary numbers 0 or 1), which gives 28 = 256 combinations. 16 bit colour gives 65 536 combinations. Question 3 Explain what a sound card does in a computer. RAM Random access memory is essential for a computer. When you open a program, instructions are copied off the hard disk onto the RAM. All the data you process goes back to RAM until you save it. Unfortunately RAM is volatile, which means that

The CPU is connected to the various other components of the computer by buses, which are a set of wires forming connections. Even when the computer seems to be idle, lots is going on. Millions of interchanges are happening between the components, passing along a data highway called the bus. Various input/output controllers work with the CPU to ensure that all this traffic is regulated in an orderly way, so that the PC does not crash. The bus transports the data between the CPU and the other components. It is a ribbon connector, part of the motherboard. However we cannot look at the motherboard to point out the bus; it is a complex arrangement of circuits that are printed on top of and below the motherboard. These circuits are called traces. Question 5 What is meant by a bus? ANSWER On the bus, there are various chips and expansion slots with lots of metal connectors into which expansion cards or adapters are plugged in. These allow us to extend or upgrade our computer to our own requirements. Sometimes the bus is called the expansion bus for this reason. Without the expansion slots, we would have to be content with what we were given. The idea for the PC bus was introduced by IBM in 1981, with an architecture that was so versatile that it was used for many years without change. Nowadays there are about ten different kinds of PC bus, all of which are about moving data about faster. The original buses were 8 bit, but 16 bit buses were introduced that became theIndustry Standard Architecture (ISA). This is the most common today, although the expansion slots may have different configurations. Expansion slots in a 16-bit bus still accept 8-bit cards using fewer connectors. The diagram shows the idea. Note that a 33 MHz processor

is pitifully slow by today's standards. The internal bus connects the CPU to the various registers and other components of the CPU. The external bus connects the CPU to the main memory and the input and output devices. Question 6 Why are expansion sockets provided? However input and output devices work at considerably different speeds to the CPU (which works like greased lightning), so there is an interface unit between the component and the bus. This is achieved by buffers, which are memories that accept the data. Input data is pooled together and sent at a rate that the CPU can deal with. When this happens the buffer is emptied. The CPU works very much faster than the keyboard operator and it finds it only worthwhile to empty the keyboard buffer every so often. Similarly the output to the printer is much faster than the printer can print it, so the output is stored in an output buffer, which is emptied as the printer prints. Blocks of data are held thus in a print queue; when you purge the printer, you are deleting the material contained in the printer buffer. Some printers have their own buffer memories, up to 2 Megabytes. Question 7 What do the buffers do? ANSWER When several users are trying to access a printer at the same time, the jobs might get muddled up resulting in a real pigs breakfast. The output might get written to disk, a process called spooling. The user output is put on a different part of the disk. Each bit is read when the printer becomes available. This system allows different prioritiesto be assigned to print jobs. There is often a dedicated computer for a network printer called a print server. The computer needs software by which it can communicate with a printer, called a printer driver. This contains:

On the reverse of the HDD are buffer memories and control chips. Question 8 Why is it not a good idea to move the computer about when it's running? ANSWER Floppy Disk Drives As well as the hard drive, all modern PCs will have a floppy disk drive. The floppy disk is made of a flexible material hence the name, although the disk itself is held in a hard plastic shell. It has a capacity of 1.38 megabytes, about 300 pages of plain text. However, as soon as you add a few pictures, the file size becomes much larger, far too big for a floppy disk. And its not just size that leads to problems:

y y y y y

Life span of a floppy disk is very limited, before the magnetic material starts to degrade. Mechanical damage to the disk if grit and dust gets in. Easily damaged if carried in your pocket. Data can be damaged by the disk getting warm or damp. Magnetic fields can destroy the data.

Data can be corrupted very easily by other means which may not always be obvious. CD-ROM All modern computers have a CD-ROM drive, and the majority have facilities to write (or burn) a CD. The picture below shows a CD drive found on a laptop computer. The head has a small laser which sends a beam of red light onto pits that have been etched onto the disk.

y y y

Control commands to the printer

A library of input signals that the computer can read from the printer as it gives feedback on how its progressing with the print jobs. This process is calledhandshaking. Details of the fonts the printer can use. These are fairly standard across the various kinds of PCs.

The printer is connected usually by a parallel connection, in which there are separate wires for each 1 and 0 that forms the byte. This allows for rapid data transmission but the range is limited to about 3 metres as interference can arise. Serial data transmission only needs two wires, but is rather slower. The Internet connection through a telephone line will give you the joys of serial data transmission! In both serial and parallel transmission, there are extra lines for control signals and secondary data flow. The universal serial bus (USB) allows several peripherals to be connected to a computer by a single line, including scanners, digital cameras, and printers. The picture shows a USB hub with 4 ports, to which four different peripherals can be connected. Auxiliary Storage Hard disk drives RAM is volatile, so its no good for long term storage, as everything is lost each time the computer is turned off. So we need a way of keeping a permanent record of our work. This is achieved by auxiliary storage media. Every computer has a hard drive, between 20 gigabytes and 100 gigabytes on a modern machine. The picture shows a hard drive. The disks are made of a metal covered with a layer of tiny particles of magnetic material. The hard disks spin at high speed while the reads pick up tiny variations in magnetic fields caused by the 1s and 0s on the disk. This is reading. Writing results from tiny electrical pulses in the heads altering the magnetic material according to the 1s and 0s. The whole lot is contained in a sealed unit. They are assembled in dust free environments, which are many times cleaner than an operating theatre. A speck of dust would wreck the head and the recording material. The space between the heads and the disks is less than 1 micrometre (1 10-6 m). They are precision pieces of machinery. Hard disk drives (HDD) do not last for ever. Sometimes the head hit the spinning disk, resulting in a head-crash. This would wreck the disk and the data on it. How long recordable CDs will last, nobody knows as yet. Some have been around for about 10 years with no sign of deterioration, but it would make sense not to leave CDs in strong sunlight. Recordable CDs and their writers have fallen markedly in price over the last few years. These disks have a capacity of about 700 megabytes. The pictures show a CD-RW disk. Digital Versatile Disks (DVD) can hold up to 4 gigabytes, and many computers have a CD drive that can read and write to these. Flash disk Over the last couple of years, solid state auxiliary storage has become available at a reasonable price. For 30 you can get a USB flash memory with 60 Mb. You can even get 1 gigabyte, if you are prepared to pay the price. The picture shows a USB flash memory (or pen drive): These can be simply plugged into a USB port of a computer and is instantly recognised as a storage medium by the operating system. They are especially useful for carrying data (porting) between computers.

The receptor picks up the light bursts and transmits them as 1s and 0s to the computer. When a CD writer writes a CD, a dye changes properties with the pulses of ultra violet light sent out by the writer. The refractions made by the altered dye allows for the 1s and 0s to be made. Both write once CDs (CD-R) and rewritable CDs (CD-RW) work in a similar ways, but in a CD-RW, the dye can be reversed. They are not magnetic in any way.

Zip drives and Others Zip drives of up to 100 megabytes are available. They looked rather like floppy disks, but were more expensive and had a special drive. Nowadays with the arrival of pen drives and recordable CDs, they have fallen out of favour. Digital Audio Tape (DAT) can be used to back up networks. They have a capacity of hundreds of megabytes. All these storage media can be used to make back-ups which are vital to prevent the loss of data caused by a major software or hardware failure. Data Processing Every piece of data that is put into a computer has to be translated into binary code, i.e. the 1s and 0s that represent on and off. The computer has standard codes to represent the characters of both numbers and letters. These are the ASCII codes; for example the ASCII code for A is 0100001. The ASCII code for a is 1100001. The case is converted by adding (or subtracting) the difference between these numbers, i.e. 1000000. To make things a bit more simple, the codes are allocated a decimal number. A is given the ASCII code ASCII-65 as 0100001 is 65 in binary. Binary numbers look horrendous but are not that difficult to understand. If we write a decimal number like 245, the three digits represent: Hundreds Tens Units 2 4 5

The central processor works in binary, but programmers use another counting system called hexadecimal. The base number of this one is 16. So 10 is 16. The table below shows the idea. Decimal Hexadecimal 0 0 1 1 2 2 3 3 4 4 5 5 6 6 7 7 8 8 9 9 10 A 11 B 12 C 13 D 14 E 15 F

So 1F = 16 + 15 = 31. 32 is 20 in hexadecimal (Note: we do not say twenty but two nought). Question 11 Complete this table of hexadecimal and decimal numbers Hexadecimal 26

This number is made up of: (2 100) + (4 10) + (5 1) = 200 + 40 + 5 = 245.

Decimal 23

9A A binary number can be made up in a similar way. Instead of hundreds, tens and units, we have units, twos, fours, eights, sixteens, and so on. Consider the number 00100010: 128 64 32 16 8 4 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 178

ANSWER Now look at this picture. It is of a real crash that my computer did while I was preparing the Word version of these notes.

Our number is 0 + 0 + 32 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 2 + 0 = 34. We can do a similar process in reverse to produce a binary number from a decimal number. When talking about numbers, we often refer to decimal numbers; in the machine these are the binary equivalents. Question 10 Complete this table of 8-bit binary and decimal numbers Binary 00000101 11010101 178 Computers can also store pictures and graphics in two different ways: Don't you just love it? Memory in a computer is arranged like a series of pigeon-holes, each of which has a hexadecimal address. This is what you see when you get the details of a program error, The program has performed an illegal operation and will be closed down. If the problem persists, please contact the vendor and a series of hexadecimal numbers. You can see this in the picture above. This happens when a program tries to allocate a data item into an address that is already being used and is called a conflict. Sloppy programming in the operating system is usually at fault in causing these crashes. Processing Images

Decimal 23

ANSWER When dealing with real numbers (i.e. numbers with a floating decimal point), computers represent them differently from the representation of a number as simply acharacter. When a computer is programmed, it is given instructions on how to deal with numbers as:

Bit-mapped or pixel based. They create pictures by assigning colours to individual pixels. Bitmapped images can be difficult to edit and may get smudged if they arecompressed. Uncompressed bitmap pictures can occupy very large file sizes, as much as 10 megabytes for a photograph like the one below. The compressed files, known as JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group), are smaller. The compression can be quite large to reduce the file size. However the uncompressed image can be of poorer quality. Portability between applications can also be a problem. Another problem is pixilation, especially if images are enlarged a lot.

y y y

Integers whole numbers Real numbers any number at all. Characters numbers written as characters, not for processing. You would be unlikely to want to multiply car registration numbers or telephone dialling codes!

Object oriented graphics that have none of these limitations. A line is defined by width, endpoints and colour, and this information is stored. This type of file is device independent, as it can be interpreted by any computer, with the result that there is no problem in transferring it from computer to computer or application to application. Files are a lot smaller. The programs that produce these graphics allow a high degree of

accuracy. If we enlarge a graphic, we get no distortion, whereas in a bit-mapped graphic, we end up enlarging the mapped pixels, resulting in image degradation. Computer aided design packages use this kind of imaging. Computers can play moving image files which are compressed using the mpeg, avi, or mov format. These files are enormous, about 10 megabytes for 20 seconds of moving images. These can be used for a variety of different purposes, such as education, sports coaching, or simple amusement if you find that kind of thing funny (which I do). Question 12 Write down one problem that computers encounter when processing images. Explain one way in which this problem is reduced. ANSWER Processing Sound Computers store and process sounds as binary characters. Sound waves are continuously varying and have to be converted into digital form by a analogue to digital converter. The reverse process is done with a digital to analogue converter. These devices are found on the sound card of your computer. The diagram below shows how an analogue sound is converted to digital or vice versa.

industry. She was at the forefront of computer development. As an officer of the Naval Reserve, she achieved the rank of Admiral. All these early machines were huge, needed large amounts of electricity to keep them going, and specialised people to run them, and interpret the output. Programming them was difficult as they needed to use machine code, the series of 1s and 0s that the computer uses. Finding errors was time consuming and difficult. An American company, International Business Machines, was one of the first to go into commercial production of computers. Its Chairman was famously quoted that he reckoned that there was a market for four or five of these machines worldwide. The main problem was that these machines used thermionic valves (toobs) in their electronics. They used a vast amount of electricity and were none too reliable. Question 13 Explain why computers were not widespread in the nineteen-fifties. ANSWER When the transistor was invented and perfected in the mid nineteen-fifties, the complex circuitry within a computer could be made into a manageable size. Contrary to expectations, the computer rapidly became a must have for large corporations. These were vast machines called mainframes which needed large buildings and a good number of specialised staff to operate them. COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) was a common language used by these machines, along with the EBCDIC character codes. The picture shows a mainframe: Mainframes are still in use in some corporations because of the huge sums of money invested. However many mainframes have less computing power than PCs and only survive due to the economics.

The diagram shows the sounds represented as blocks which in the computer are binary numbers.

From this diagram you can see that the waves general shape is there, but it is somewhat distorted. If this were passed back through a digital to analogue converter, the sound we would hear would be quite badly distorted. Each of these levels is given a digital number. Old computers and CD players used 16-bit conversion, which meant that there were 63000 different levels. Now it is 32-bit, or even 64-bit which gives a huge range of sound levels. The problem cannot be got rid of completely (this is why some audiophiles prefer the old LP records to the modern CD), but can be mitigated by increasing the sampling rate, which puts more of the little rectangles under the wave. Many sound files are quite large. 1 minutes sound will take about 600 kilobytes (a floppy disc can take about 3 minutes sound). Sound files can be compressed using the MP3 format. Electronic musical instruments can be connected to a computer by a MIDI interface. MIDI files are smaller, about 30 kb per minute. Yesterday's Computers Charles Babbage produced a design for a mechanical computation engine back in the nineteenth century. The precision he demanded of the engineering was not possible at the time so it was not completed. Modern computing involves electronic circuits of one kind or another. Blaise Pascal, a French Mathematician, produced an idea for a digital computer at about the same time. An electromechanical machine called Collossus was used in the Second World War to crack the Enigma encryption codes used by the German Army. It was so good that itcould crack Enigma codes faster than a modern PC with a Pentium processor The earliest fully electronic computer was built by the US Navy during the Second World War under the supervision of Grace Hopper. It was she who coined the phrase bug for a program error, when a moth shorted out a couple of wires. It was she who invented the first computing language, ATP, and she verified the language COBOL which was widely used in

Mini-computers are smaller versions of mainframes. Some of these were based on the analogue concept, in which the operational amplifier was at the heart. Analogue computing is almost completely unknown nowadays. The microcomputer is the generic name for a number of different kinds of small computer, of which the most common is now the PC. When microcomputers came in, in the late seventies, they had taken advantage of the rapidly falling price of integrated circuit chips. Some of these were designed at the home market. Examples include the Sinclair Spectrum, and the Amiga. The British Broadcasting Corporation sponsored the design of a microcomputer which became very common in schools. The picture below shows a BBC microcomputer. These machines had a very simple operating system, and were easy to run. Many people used them to write their own software; there was little commercially available software. A number of teenagers made a lot of money by producing software in their bedrooms. The graphics were crude, and there was little memory. Auxiliary storage was on 5 inch floppy disks that were even cruder than present floppy disk. Some programs were even recoded on audio cassette. Sometimes the programs were broadcast on the radio. The transmission sounded like a nest of angry bees. Some software was available on pre-programmed chip. Access to these was remarkably easy. For Interword, a word processor, you typed *IW.. The BBC was very good at:

y y y

Data-logging Word-processing Spreadsheets

The old BBCs were very reliable. If the programs did go wrong, the computer could be restored by pressing the BREAK key, and the program could be reloaded by pressing SHIFT + BREAK. BBC computers still are in use in some schools. The BBC was overtaken by the Archimedes which, in its later versions could be configured to run like a PC. The Personal Computer

In the early eighties, the Personal Computer started to take off. There were a number of microcomputers available for the home market, such as the Amiga. Since these home machines were plugged into a TV set, the graphics quality was poor. However the business end were dominated by International Business Machines (IBM) and the Apple range from the McIntosh Corporation. The Apple-Macs were very neat in appearance and had an excellent operating system incorporating a Graphical User Interface (GUI) which was easy to use. Indeed it was this GUI that coined the phrase user-friendly By contrast the IBM machines were slightly ramshackle and used an operating system produced by a small company called Microsoft owned by William Gates. However IBM were somewhat more astute by licensing other computer manufacturers to use their architecture. So a range of IBM-compatible machines was made available, all using Gates not very easy to use Disk Operating System (DOS), which was a command-line interface. Originally DOS was provided on a floppy disk, which had to be placed in the drive when the machine was turned on. This is why when a machine is booted, it still first of all looks for the operating system in the floppy disk drive. The IBM and Macs were the first to introduce a hand-held pointing and selection device called a mouse. They also had separate keyboards, and high quality monitors. The McIntosh Corporation guarded their products very jealously and would allow no other companies to use any of their ideas. They lost out, but have kept a loyal market since their rather expensive machines are very reliable, and their operating system rarely, if ever, crashes. However their machines are not easy to upgrade, whereas the IBM clones are. The Commodore company produced a machine called the Pet, of which one is seen in the picture below: Question 14 Why would a machine like this be unsuitable for an office? ANSWER Nowadays, the IBM standard is the most common PC available both for home and office use. They have come down remarkably in price, as well as making enormous advances in speed and processing power. A two-year old car is still quite desirable; a two-year-old computer is decidedly past its sell-by date. Many old, but quite functional, computers are put into the skip by corporations who are desperate to maintain their image. Laptop Computers The normal PC is nowadays often referred to as a desktop. The laptop computer has seen a considerable growth in popularity in the last few years. The advantages it can offer are:

Laptops have always cost more than desktops, partly due to their complexity, partly due to a more restricted market, but also partly because the market has accepted it. Most people think that a laptop should cost about 1500, so manufacturers charge 1500. However that has changed, and laptops are coming down in price Question 15 Assess two advantages and two disadvantages of laptop computers compared to desktop computers. ANSWER Specialist Computers Not every computer is a PC. Many computers are found in a variety of gadgets from digital cameras to aeroplanes. If the computer is an integral part of the device, it is said to be embedded. The picture shows the inside of a digital camera. Question 16 What parts of the digital camera do the following computer functions? Input device Processor Output device Auxiliary Storage ANSWER The Sony Playstation and similar gaming machines are computers in their own right, using an operating system that is similar, but not totally the same as a PC. Therefore games for these machines cannot be used on a PC, although PC versions do exist. Sometimes engineers have tried to engineer the human out of machines with variable degrees of success. This aeroplane is an Airbus A 320 which is a fly-by-wire machine. The pilot has no direct control of the control surfaces. Instead a computer does it. The engineers decided to go one step further The aeroplane was being landed with no pilot, just a computer. It flared (the final manoeuvre just before landing), but remained about 10 metres above the runway. It only landed after being stopped by trees at the far end of the runway. Its final act was to explode in flames. The experiment was not repeated.

Central processing unit on a chip

y y y

Small size, so can be readily carried Ability to do everything that a desktop can do. Liquid crystal display is less prone to flicker than a normal monitor.
OUTPUT DEVICES Output devices send information from your computer to you. This information is usually in the form of sound and sight, but some devices can send information as touch and even as smell! Some common output devices are monitors, printers, and speakers. INPUT DEVICES Input devices are the parts that let you enter and manipulate information on a computer. These devices range from the standard keyboard and mouse, to scanners, microphones, joysticks, and light pens. There are some devices that can input and output. Some examples would touch screen monitors (input by touch, output by sight) and force feedback joysticks. ON THE INSIDE The inside of your computer has many parts that all work together. These parts are generally found within your computer case - this is usually the big "box" that probably sits under your desk or below your monitor. If you're using an iMac, many of the computer parts are built into the monitor case. The motherboard [shown at right], or mainboard, is the backbone of the computer. All the individual pieces connect to the motherboard in some way. The motherboard is home the processor chip, pci slots, and memory. Processor - This is the chip that does the "thinking" of the computer. These are the "Pentium" and "AMD" chips you hear about. Processor speed is measured in MegaHertz(Mhz) and GigaHertz(Ghz). 1 Ghz = 1000 Mhz Memory - This is where information is temporarily stored for the processor to use and manipulate before storing on the HARD DRIVE. Also known as RAM (Random access memory). Information is stored in memory only when the computer is turned on. Ram is measured in Megabytes(Mb), which is storage capacity, not to be confused with MegaHertz, which is speed. PCI Slot - These are outlets in the motherboard that allow you to install extra components like sound cards, modems, video cards, and other devices. The images below show different PCI card components. Hard Drive - This is the part of your computer where information is stored for later retrieval. All the information you access on your computer, all your documents, pictures, email messages, and programs are here. Unlike memory, the hard drive stores information even after the power is turned off. The image to the right shows the inside of a hard drive. Floppy Drive - This is the slot in the front of your computer where you insert a disk to store data and move it to another computer. If your computer is an iMac, you will not have a Floppy Drive. Floppy disks are 3 inches in size, and hold 1.44Mb of data. The images below show a floppy drive, and some floppy disks. CD ROM or DVD ROM Drives - This plays your music and data cd's, or if you have a DVD drive, it will also play DVD movies. Data CD's hold up to 700Mb of information. If you have a CD-R or CD-RW drive, you can store your own information on CDs.

The laptop is a miracle in miniaturisation. All the facilities of a desktop are crammed into a space as small as a large book. These facilities include:

y y y y y

Processor that is as powerful as a desktop CD writing facilities Different ports for access to internet or printers Networking facilities Battery so that the computer can work away from the mains.

Many business people now use laptops as a regular part of their work. However there are disadvantages in this:

y y y y

The computer is easily stolen, leading to possible breaches in security. It is easily broken by dropping. Updating material on the laptops may well lead to there being one version of a file on the desktop network and a later version on the network. It is more difficult to control what goes on with laptops. For example up to date virus scanners may not be on the laptops and the laptop picks up a virus.