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How Does My Computer Work?

Your computer is made up of many different parts, but they are all generally the same combination of parts in comparison with other computers. A Motherboard, processor, graphics card (whether integrated or dedicated), a hard drive, power supply, and a cooling system. Those are the required parts for a computer. There are other very common parts of a computer that are not necessary, such as the case, the disk drive, and some peripherals such as USB ports on the front.

Starting with the motherboard, one might say it is the most important part of the computer. It controls the flow of information across the parts of your computer, as well as the power. It contains a BIOS, or Basic Input/Output System, which is the software for how your computer runs. What time it is, what to power on in what order, what to display on your screen, and what to access, are all determined by that. Right now, technology is moving towards a new version of the BIOS, called the UEFI, or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface.

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Your processor is what carries out all the commands of your computer. It does this by performing mathematical operations within its own programming at maddening speeds. A 3.0 GHz processor will cycle at 3 billion cycles per second! That’s 3 billion calculations that can happen each and every second for a computer. During normal use, a modern computer will use between 1-1.5GHz, as long as all the hardware are working correctly. That is still 1 to 1 and a half billion calculations per second!

Next, a graphics card is what displays the image on your monitor, or your screen. Most motherboards come with an integrated GPU, or graphical processing unit. They are sufficient for standard use of a computer, but for playing modern video games, a dedicated graphics card is recommended. They contain a processor that is dedicated for all of your graphical needs. So processing all of the pixels, physics, and actions that occur within a video game can be taken care of by a separate processor, while your main CPU runs the rest of the computer.

A Hard Disk Drive, or HDD, is a spinning metallic disk that contains all the data that you use on your computer. It contains the operating system (Windows, Mac, Linux), as well as all of your photos, documents, music, and software. Without a hard drive, there is no personal data stored on a computer. The main components of the HDD are several spinning metal disks coated with a magnetic material and an arm that reads and writes the data that it is commanded to do. Your data is stored in the form of 1s and 0s. Physically, it is a positive or negative magnetic charge. Positive means 1, and negative means 0. A combination of 1s and 0s, or binary, will equal your data.

Your power supply is a little simpler. It takes the electric power from your wall, dials it down a little, and spreads it through wires to the many components of your computer. Some parts require a direct plug from the power supply to the part, such as the motherboard or hard drive, and other simpler parts can draw their power directly from the motherboard.

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The cooling system is a much required part of the computer, because without it, your CPU will melt down and break. With an average of one billion calculations per second, that type of energy creates a lot of heat, and it needs to disperse somewhere or it will be absorbed by the CPU itself, and cause damage. A heatsink is a metal component that is placed ontop of the CPU, and absorbs the majority of the heat, and creates a large amount of surface area for the cooling system. The most common type of cooling system are fans, which create an airflow within the case of the computer, allowing heat to escape and letting in cooler air to replace it. But sometimes that is not enough, especially for high end computers, and a more efficient method of cooling is required. Liquid cooling absorbs the heat in the form of a water solution, then sends the heated water to a cold location for the heat to disperse, then cycles the water back to the CPU.

There are a few other components that can be installed on a computer, but they are not necessary for the computer to function for a standard user to use the operating system and use programs. An optical disk drive, ODD, or a disk drive, is used to read CDs, DVDs, and/or Blu-Ray disks. That is an example of a very common part, but is not necessary for the computer to run.

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