How a Computer Works

Technical Terms

The brain of the computer is called the Central Processing Unit (CPU). It is located inside the main box on a printed electric circuit called a Motherboard; it is a 'micro-chip', a piece of ceramic-like material that has billions of microscopic electrical connections etched onto it. Any form of information (words, pictures, sounds, and numbers) can be converted to electric signals that are 'input' to the chip. The electric connections on the chip allow these signals to be compared to one another and combined with one another according to a 'program' that 'processes' or manipulates the information into a new form, which becomes the 'output' electric signal from the chip. Everything else in a computer is designed to take human information and convert it to the input electric signals for the chip, or to take the chip's output signals and convert them back to a form that humans can recognize. These other components are called 'peripherals', or just input and output devices.

The Computer – A system of main parts

The Box (or Shell) - contains the CPU microchip and all the really important components

Central Processing Unit (CPU) - the brain of the computer, located inside the main box on a printed electric circuit called a Motherboard. Any form of information (words, pictures, sounds, and numbers) can be converted to electric signals that are 'input' to the chip.

CD-ROM drive - an optical storage device that reads and/or writes data to/from a CD, or compact disk

Circuit board - A thin rigid board on which electronic components and their interconnecting circuits are mounted or etched, often containing metallic, conductive strips to connect the components together. Often called cards, circuit boards can be inserted into expansion slots in a computer to increase the computer's capabilities.

Drives - a term referring to storage device

DVD-ROM drive - a special CD-ROM for DVDs. DVD, also known as Digital Video Disc or Digital Versatile Disc, is an optical disc storage media format capable of holding 6x more data than a standard CD.

Floppy-disk Drive - A floppy drive stores and retrieves information on floppy disks. A floppy disk is a data storage medium that is composed of a disk of thin, flexible ("floppy") magnetic storage medium encased in a square or rectangular plastic shell.

Hard Drive - Also known as a hard disk, the hard drive is the high-capacity, main long-term storage device for programs, information, and personal data on a computer

Hardware - A personal computer is made up of multiple physical components of computer hardware, upon which can be installed an operating system and a multitude of software applications to perform the operator's desired functions. Hardware devices arecapable of accepting and storing computer data, executing a systematic sequence of operations on computer data, or producing control outputs. Such devices can perform substantial interpretation, computation, communication, control, or other logical functions.

Keyboard - a computer input device used like a typewriter but with many useful extra keys, which allows you to type letters and input data into the computer.

Modem - A circuit board device that encodes digital computer signals into analog/analogue telephone signals and vice versa and allows computers to communicate over a phone line. Modem stands for "modulator-demodulator."

Monitor - A viewport looks like, and basically is, a TV screen displaying the operating system and visual contents of your computer.

Mother Board - the primary circuit board of a personal computer, containing the circuitry for the central processing unit, memory chips, plus all the other circuits needed to control the disk drives, the keyboard, mouse and monitor, and to communicate with plug-in extension cards.

Mouse - a palm-size gadget that rolls on a ball or uses a laser, and is used for navigation on your personal computer

Printer - transfers data from a computer onto paper

Network Card - a circuit board, either installed onto or built into a motherboard, which connects to the internet, a network of computers, modem, router, or another computer through network cables.

Program - a sequence of coded instructions that a computer can interpret and execute.  A computer requires programs to function.  A computer program does nothing unless its instructions are executed by a central processor. 

Operating System (OS) - the master program that runs the computer behind the scenes while you work. It translates your instructions into actions by the machine. The operating system manages the interaction between users and hardware and are employed by users to tell a computer what to do with the resources at its disposal in order to run programs, store or transfer data and files. The most common operating systems are Windows, Mac OSX, and Unix. DOS is an older system that is now a small part of Windows.

RAM (random-access memory) - the the most common computer memory which can be used by programs to perform necessary tasks while the computer is on; an integrated circuit chip allows information to be stored or accessed in any order and all storage locations are equally accessible

Stereo Speakers - for multimedia systems to play sound (also sometimes a Microphone to speak into)

Software - refers to programs and other operating information and source code that tell the hardware what to do.

Source Code - refers to the original or underlying programming code that a piece of software is written in. Source code is generally compiled, or packaged into a format readible by the operating system that makes up the actual working software application.

Spyware - Spyware is a software application or program that is generally installed without the knowledge or consent of the user, in order to build a profile of your preferences for the purpose of marketing.

Spyware is not typically a computer virus, so some anti-virus programs do not see or remove many types of spyware.  Spyware can find its way onto your computer by many ways, but usually it is the result of just using the Internet and visiting websites.

Tape Drive - optional, for storing data and information on magnetic tape, and is typically used for offline backup and archiving purposes

Video Card - A video card, video adapter, graphics-accelerator card, display adapter or graphics card is an expansion card (circuit board) whose function is to manage the display on a monitor

Virus - is a computer program designed to replicate itself and nest its source code within applications already installed on the user's computer, without permission or knowledge of the user.

Viruses nowadays are designed to cause harm to the user's computer system in the process by corrupting and removing files, source code and data that are critical and necessary for a computer program's or system's performance.

Web Camera - a video camera (video capturing device) that feeds images in real time to a computer or computer network, often via USB, ethernet, or Wi-Fi

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