What Exactly is a Computer?

Hello and welcome to my very first lesson on YouTube. The goal of this channel is to help everyone learn about computers and technology. Many people are scared to even turn on a computer because they think it might blow up! I’m going to take you through the very basics of computers on this channel so you can feel more confident in using new technology. You might even have some fun along the way!

Today were going to talk about what a computer is. Now I know, many people know what a computer is, and it seems like a dumb question as anyone in a first world country would have an email address and have gone on the Internet before. But what I’m talking about is what makes a computer tick.

Figure 1 – Home Computer Setup

Many people who own a computer know that it’s a box that sits under the desk with a bunch of flashing lights and it’s connected to a screen like a TV called the monitor. You then probably have a mouse and keyboard as well as some speakers. That box is just a protective casing and it’s the internal components that make up the computer. Thanks to new technology, computers are getting smaller, faster, more energy efficient, and generally cheaper.

Figure 2 – Laptop Computer

If you’re looking for a computer that’s a little smaller and better for moving around, then you’re looking at purchasing a laptop. Anyone that works in a white-collar job probably knows what a laptop is. Businesses love laptops because they’re very portable and allow their workforce flexibility to get the job done. A laptop has the same components as it’s bigger brother, but they are crammed in a smaller form factor. We will dive into more detail about laptops in the future.

We will also be talking in more detail of each component of the computer but for now we will give a quick high-level overview of the pieces, or components, that make a computer work. This information is not too concerning if you’re just using computers to check email or surf the web, but if you’re interested in knowing how a computer works then you’re going to find this interesting.

Figure 3 –  Motherboard

The main component of a computer is called the motherboard this is basically a big circuit board that allows you to attach all the other devices together including the hard drive, memory, CPU, graphic card, and all your connections like your monitor connection. For the scope of this post and video, this is all you need to know at this point.

Figure 4 – Backplate of Motherboard

Here’s a close look of the side of the motherboard where you plug in your devices such as a mouse and keyboard. You can see this part of the computer, but the giant circuit board is normally hidden from view within the case.

Figure 5 – CPU (Central Processing Unit)

The next component I would like to talk about is the processor or CPU, (central processing unit). This is a little square chip that connects to a socket on the motherboard and it’s responsible for carrying out instructions for you. This is basically the brains of the entire operation! You might’ve noticed that when you’re in a store you might see that a computer or laptop is labelled i5-3.8 GHz processor for example. We will talk more about the different types of CPU’s (i3, i5, i7, i9) but for now lets just focus on GHz.

The GHz (gigahertz) represents how fast the computer can think. If you think of a human that can do just a couple things a second (at best), the computer in this instance would be able to complete 3.8 billion instructions per second! Generally, the higher the number, the faster the computer will perform and the more productive your PC will be. Of course, a better and faster CPU always comes at a financial cost.

If you didn’t have a CPU in your computer, all you would see is a black screen when you tried to turn it on. CPUs are a good chunk of the total cost of the computer, but luckily, it’s very rare that a CPU will go bad unless its overheating. When you purchase a computer at the store, all these components are included but some people like to buy individual parts and build their own computers for better customization for their needs.

Figure 6 – RGB Memory

The next component we are going to talk about is RAM or Random-Access Memory. Even though a CPU is the brains of the computer, the data is just going in one ear and out the other. The memory is used to store data and programs when you start them on the computer. It essentially keeps them on a temporary hard drive for faster access when your programs need it.

A lot of types of memory can just look like chips that plug into the motherboard, but now fancy, and more expensive, memory sticks come with LED’s (RGB memory) so that you can customize the colours to your liking. Generally, gamers like to do this and is only for cosmetics. RGB (Red, Green, Blue) memory doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any faster than it’s non-RGB counterparts.

As of 2022, RAM is measured in gigabytes (GB) and typical examples would be for 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, up to around 128 GB. Again, the more memory you have in your computer, the better performance you will get but the higher cost you’re going to incur. As of this video, unless you’re going to be working on hard-core applications such as video editing or you’re a hard-core gamer, generally 16GB is a good number to reach when shopping for a computer or laptop.

7 – Platter-Based Hard Drive

The last main component we are going to talk about today is the hard drive of the computer. Many people incorrectly assume the hard drive is memory. We know from the previous example that random-access memory or RAM is considered the memory. Therefore, it’s important to know the difference between RAM and hard drive space. An appropriate term for the hard drive would be the capacity or free space of the computer. This is where you save all your documents and programs so that when you turn off your computer, they will be available for you when you turn it back on. As soon as you turn off the computer and something is still stored in memory, it will be gone forever, so memory is only a temporary storage space to improve performance while you’re using the computer. Once you turn it off, the memory clears with it. Files on the hard drive will always stay unless you have hardware failure or corruption of the data.

8 – Solid State Drive

Hard drives can come in many form factors and types. We will be getting into more detail on the different types of hard drives in a future video, but for now know that there are standard platter-based hard drives (HDD), solid-state hard drives (SSD), portable hard drives, and even thumb drives that act as a great way to store your data.

9 – Portable Hard Drives

Other components include sound cards, and the graphic card. In today’s market, unless you’re a gamer that needs a more powerful component, these are already built into the motherboard. They are generally mediocre quality that are great for streaming music and video and for using basic applications. If you did want to get into gaming or work on high power applications such as video editing, you would have to purchase a separate graphic card that’s a little more powerful than what would be on a motherboard.

Now that we’ve talked about what type a hardware is required to make a computer work, now it is time to talk about another important layer to complete the system – software. A computer wouldn’t be working very well, or at all for that matter, without the software to run on the hardware. A very important piece of software called the operating system is required so that the computer knows what to do with the hardware. Many of you know the very popular operating system software Windows. But there are others such as MacOS and Linux.

Figure 10 – Windows 7 Desktop

Figure 11 – Windows 10 Desktop

Figure 12 – Linux (Ubuntu) Desktop

Once you have your operating system installed, or it was preinstalled with the computer you purchased, then you can add your applications on top of the operating system. This can be things such as games, Microsoft Word, or your web browsers like Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. As you can see, for a computer to function properly, there are multiple layers – the hardware, operating system, and applications. Without one or the other, it would be impossible for the computer to do what it does for you every single day.

This was just a quick overview on how a computer works, future videos and posts will make sure to go into more detail of each part.

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