Introduction to Computer Components

I have talked about computer components before in my post titled How to Buy a New Computer but it provided a quick overview on what to look for in a computer. I decided to go into more detail into some of the components that you will find in a typical computer.

The Processor

The first component I will look at in a computer is the actual brains of system. You may have heard of Intel and AMD, which are the two companies that produce processors for a computer.

A processor is simply a complex computer chip that contains millions of transistors and is responsible for carrying out instructions. The number of instructions that a processor can carry out is dependent on its speed.

Processors are usually rated in hertz (Hz). The speed of a processor today is usually rated in gigahertz (GHz) or 1 billion hertz. The larger the number, the faster the processor. Some of the new processors include more than one core that allows more instructions to be processed at one time with a slower speed. A two core processor, however, doesn’t process instructions at twice the speed as a single core.

As mentioned, both Intel and AMD produce processors for computers. Intel’s processors are usually called Pentium, while AMD uses the Athlon name. Processors from either company will be able to easily run your applications without issues.

Memory (RAM)

When a program is executed it is loaded from the hard drive into memory or RAM. When someone talks about the memory of a computer they are referring to the RAM (Random Access Memory).

The amount of RAM a computer has can impact the performance of the system. If you load too many programs at one time, you may run of RAM, which means Windows will then start to use the pagefile located on your hard drive. The hard drive in a computer is much slower than RAM so the more you require the pagefile, the slower your system becomes. If you do have this issue, either try not to load so many programs, or have more memory installed.

Memory is measured in bytes (B). The memory included in computers are usually stated in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB). Megabytes is equal to 1 million bytes while gigabytes is 1 billion bytes. The more memory you have in your computer the better.

So why do we use hard drives instead of memory if memory is so much faster? The big reason is that RAM is volatile. This means that once the power is off on your computer, all data in memory is cleared. With a hard drive you can turn off your computer and your data will still be there the next time you use your computer.

Hard Drives

I remember my first computer had 640K (kilobyte or 1 thousands bytes) of RAM and a 20MB hard drive. Today hard drives have now into the terabytes (TB or 1 trillion bytes). Hard drives grow larger with each passing year.

Hard drives, as with RAM, are measure in bytes. Most hard drives sizes are stated in gigabytes, but some of the newer hard drives are now 1 terrabyte or larger. The hard drive contains all your programs and data files. When you launch a program it is read from the hard drive and then loaded into memory.

Hard drives consist of a spinning platter of flat disks. The speed of the hard drive is measure in revolutions per minute (RPM) and are usually indicated on the hard drive itself. Popular speeds are 5400RPM, 72000RPM and 10000RPM. There are several factors, however, that go into calculating the actual speed of the hard drive, which I won’t discuss here.

There are also external hard drives that you can plug into your computer, and use just like regular internal hard drive. These external hard drives a generally more expensive, but can be great for backing up data.

Network Adapters

Whether you have a wireless or wired network adapter, they all fall into this category. A network adapter allows you to connect to a network. This network can be with another PC in the same room, or to your broadband (high speed) Internet connection.

Network speeds are usually indicated by megabits per second (Mbps or 1 million bits per second). For modern networks you can have 10Mbps, 100Mbps or even 1000Mbps. You will need to divide the number by 8 to get the number of bytes per second since 8 bits is equal to 1 byte.

If you have a broadband Internet connection then you will definitely need a network adapter in your computer. Most computers today include a network adapter, so you shouldn’t have any issues.

If you have a router and broadband Internet, then you should connect your modem into the router and then the network adapter from your computer to your router. The network adapter will then be assigned an IP address from you router .


In this post I have discussed some of the components you will find in a typical computer. When purchasing a computer it is important to understand what each component does so you can make a better choice of what you will need in your system.

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