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The motherboard of a computer is where everything is connected together. It is basically a printed circuit board. The motherboard has built in features. It houses the CPU, RAM and has expansion slots like PCI. The Chipset is what connects everything on the motherboard together. The Chipset is broken down into two parts; Northbridge and Southbridge. The Northbridge is connected to the CPU and RAM. The Southbridge is connected to the PCI, USB, ISA, IDE, and BIOS. The Northbridge and Southbridge are connected together and the control the communication between the CPU, RAM with the Components. The when the components on the motherboard communicate the data/info is carried via a bus.
The BIOS is software that is built into the motherboard. It is a Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). The BIOS is the first thing that is run when the computer is powered on and it goes through POST. It identifies all connected devices like the graphics card, mouse, keyboard and other hardware. It will then locate the boot order file. Once the boot has completed the BIOS ‘hands’ over control of the PC to the drive that holds the OS.
The CPU is the Central Processing Unit; this is often referred as the brain of the computer. The CPU has two types, 32 or 64 bit. The two leading brands of CPU are Intel and AMD. The CPU carries out operations it is given by the program and they are either logical operations or input/output operations. There are two parts of a CPU, the ALU and CU. The ALU is the Arithmetic logic unit which controls the logical and arithmetic operations. The CU is the Control Unit which takes commands from the memory, decodes and executes them. The speed of a CPU is measured in hertz. Nowadays the speed is between 2-4 Gigahertz. On the Intel ‘i’ series processor the north bridge is located on the actual processor.
RAM is Random Access Memory and is memory of a computer that can be randomly accessed when needed, hence the name. There are two types of RAM, DRAM (Dynamic RAM) and SRAM (Static RAM). The RAM is there so you can have more than one program open at the same time without them clashing. The more RAM you have, the more programs you can have running at the same time. Typically computers now need a minimum of 2GB of ram to work and it is recommended that you have at least 3GB of RAM as an operating system like Windows 7 requires 1GB of RAM for itself.
There are two types of hard drive, a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and a Solid State Hard Drive (SSD). A Hard Disk Drive is a set of disks known as ‘Platters’ that are read by a magnetic/optical head. The disk in a hard Disk drive is spun at high speeds to be read and the faster the disk is spun the fast the data can be retrieved from the disk. The lowest speed the disk is spun is 4800rpm giving you a latency of 6.25ms and the highest is 15000rpm giving you a latency of 2ms. Solid State Drives use solid state memory, this means access speed is increased and latency is decreased. The SSD is also very quiet and has a lower risk of damage from shock due to it having no moving parts.
The Disk Drive uses an optical laser or electromagnetic waves to read/write to a disk. There are two types of optical disk, CD and DVD. Compact Disk is for saving and playing music. The DVD is used for video and is better than a CD because it can hold more data even though they are the same size.
The Graphics card is used for a video output. Some motherboards come with a basic graphics card built in but you can buy a separate graphics card to give you better graphics memory and output. The Graphics card would be connected to the motherboard via PCI or AGP connections. The memory of the graphics card is essential to store video data and for rendering video. The GPU is a processor that is especially for graphics and designed to do floating point calculations for 3D Graphics rendering. The speeds of GPU’s range between 250MHz to 4GHz.
The Sound card is used as a sound output and a line/mic input. Some motherboards come with a basic soundcard installed, but if you want a high quality output for sound or compatibility of 5.1 speaker systems etc. you would buy a dedicated sound card.
The network interface card (NIC) allows a PC to be connected to a network. There are two types of card for network interface and they are either IEEE 802.3 (Ethernet) or IEEE 802.11 (Wireless). The Ethernet card works by translating electrical pulses into binary. The Wireless card works by translating radio waves into binary. Binary is read by the PC and used for what it is needed for. E.g. a user requests a webpage and is received in binary, it is then translated into a webpage.
Power Supply Unit
The Power Supply Unit (PSU) is what provides the PC’s components with power. It converts 240/110V AC to 3/5/12V DC. PC components cannot run with insufficient power and if the power is AC it will break/damage the components. The PSU has a red switch the is for the input Voltage of from mains.
Universal Serial Bus (USB) is the most common protocol for connection, communication, power between two devices. Hot Swappable Devices use the connection because it is so common. USB uses busses to send and retrieve data. USB 2.0 is the most common but has recently been out-dated by the new release of USB 3.0. USB 2.0 has data transfer speeds of 40Mbp/s whereas USB 3.0 has data transfer speeds of 400Mbp/s.
Case fans are a way of controlling the airflow in your PC and keeping the components cool. The amount of fans you have and the size depends on what case you have. Some cases allow for bigger fans to be installed meaning thoose fans can handle more air. The fan sizes range from 80mm to 200mm.
Hot Swappable Media
The monitor is used to display graphics and is connected to the graphics card of the PC. Two types of monitor are around, LED and LCD. Both are capable of High Definition but LED is thinner and more power efficient compared to LCD backlit monitors. There are three main connections to connect a monitor to a PC; VGA, DVI and HDMI. Video Graphics Array (VGA) is the oldest of the three and is analog signal. Digital Visual Interface (DVI) is a digital signal and is higher quality then VGA. HighDefinition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) is the newest of the three and sends high definition video and audio.
The Keyboard is a input device to enable a user to ‘talk’ to a PC, it works by a user pushing a key and that key has a unique code that the CPU can read and understand. Keyboards are connected to a PC through USB but before USB it was connected using PS/2.
PS/2 is a legacy connection for a keyboard or mouse and was recently replaced by USB. It is a mini 6-pin DIM connector. PS/2 connectors were colour coded to make it user friendly. Green was the mouse and Purple was the Keyboard.
The mouse is a input device to allow users to control the pointer of the PC. It uses a rollerball or a optical laser to see where it is going. It uses axis’ to position its self and know where it is moving. It uses the X and Y axis. It connects to the PC via USB and used to use the connection PS/2. Some mice now use wireless technology's like Bluetooth and radio waves .
Speakers are essential for having a sound output on a PC. There are ranges of sound output. The most common and cheapest would be 2.0 but for sound enthusiast they would be 2.1 or 5.1 , the number is the amount of speakers and the decimal point is a subwoofer. E.G. a 2.1 set up would be 2 speakers and 1 subwoofer. They cabling is standard PC sound cabling with a 3.5mm jack to plug into the PC.
The Printer is used to put the images and characters we see on the screen onto paper. There are many types of printer; Laser, inkjet, Solid ink, dye-sublimation and Thermal. The most popular is a Inkjet printer for home use and for office use the Laser printer is more popular. It is connected to a PC through USB. Now printers are being network ready, which enables multiple computers to connect at the same time. This is through IEEE 802.3 (Ethernet) or IEEE 802.11 (Wireless).
How a laser printer works
A webcam allows the user to record or send video to their PC in realtime. This can be used for video chat, recording or taking pictures. This is connected to the PC via USB.
The microphone allows a user sound input. This enables the user to record any sounds. The microphone can also allow users to talk to their PC if a voice recognition software is being used. Some microphones are paired with a earphone to create a headset. This allows users to hear and talk. The Microphone uses sound cabling and a 3.5mm jack to plug into the PC.