Computer components

Computer Familiarization and Buying Tips

At some point in your life time, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to buy a new computer but when you do, you are likely to be bombarded with technical terms, numbers an acronyms stating specifications that can be really confusing. How do you know you are getting the best PC/ laptop with the specifications you are after.  In this Tech tip we will simplify the main components you will find in a computer, how they work, how they affect your experience and what you should be looking for when it comes to purchasing a new computer.

There are 4 main components of a computer that you will interact with in your everyday lives, and it’s important to be able to distinguish them.

Computer (PC/Mac/Desktop/Laptop/Tower) or Laptop

Monitor (Display/Screen)

Keyboard

Mouse


Wether you are buying a PC or a laptop the components are much the same.  More importantly, the components we will discuss below are what will define how quickly your computer operates, how much it can do at once, and what your money is paying for.

The components that we will cover are :

  • Tower/ Case or Housing
  • CPU
  • RAM
  • GPU
  • Hard Drives
  • Motherboard
  • Disc drives
  • Power supply

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Tower

The Tower or Case is basically a housing for all of your computers internal components. When looking at Towers, look at models that offer better airflow while limiting the amount of noise the internal fans emit. Other benefits like Modular mounting, and quick access clips/mounts will save you the trouble of finding a screw driver whenever you want to replace an internal component.

What to consider:

  • Aesthetics & Noise
  • Durability
  • Air flow
  • Expansion for internal Components

CPU

The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is basically the brains of your computer that performs all of the calculations needed to perform tasks. This piece of hardware can have a large impact on how many tasks you can be running at any time.  When purchasing a CPU you will often find modelled as i3, i5, and i7’s, while showing a number like “2.3GHz (gigahertz)”. The i3, i5, and i7 represents the “core configuration” meaning how many cores the processor has, and how they were configured. i3, and i5’s are dual-core CPU’s, which are lower – mid range processors made by Intel. These more often than not suffice for the average user.  If you need a little extra muscle power for gaming or watching HD video you might want to look at the i7 processor.

What to consider:

  • Cost/budget
  • Core – i3/i5 = dual core, i7 = quad core (how many tasks it can handle at once)
  • Clock Speed – 1.8/2.0/2.2GHz = (how quickly it can process the information)
  • Are there new processors being released soon?

RAM

Back in the days when you were working on a spreadsheet, and the larger it got, the slower your computer became? This was the result of the lack of RAM in your PC. Your RAM (Random Access Memory or ‘Memory’ for short) is a hardware component that stores small amounts of information while your application is running for easy recollection. More more data and applications you have open, the more RAM is used resulting in a slow performance.

To understand how your RAM works, think of a time when you had a conversation with someone, and they asked you a difficult question. It may have taken a moment to recall the answer, but once someone else asks the same thing, you already know the answer because it’s now stored in an area of your memory that is easier to access. When buying RAM her are 2 factors to look watch out for which is Speed and Size. When you see MHz in the format of  1066/1333/1600MHzint, this will be a measurement of  frequency which determines the RAM’s speed.  the Size is measured in GB, or Gigabytes and this is a measurement of space. So – the greater the numbers of the MHz, the faster it can recall data, and the larger the GB, the more data is can readily store.

Things to consider:

  • Speed (MHz, 1066/1333/1600) how fast you can recall the information
  • Storage (GB, 2/4/8GB) how much information can be readily stored)

GPU/ Graphics Card

GPU’s or Graphics Processing Unit is a bit unique in reference to the other components. The job of this component is to process graphical information, analyse the data, test it, and display it on your monitor.

Your GPU is responsible for rendering the picture if you are playing a video game, a movie, or just on a website with cool photos. The GPU will handle some of the processing power the CPU would typically handle so with this spare CPU resources you will see an increase in your machines speed.

Things to consider:

  • Graphical requirements (If you plan on watching Blu-ray DVD, or using graphic intensive applications like video editing and gaming etc. will require better GPU’s).
  • Make & model (nVidia & ATI are the major providers in this market). They both come in various models, which change on a regular basis.
  • RAM on the GPU

Hard Drives

Your hard drive is your storage device where all of your operating system files, software applications and personal files are saved.The hard drive comes comes in 3 different types.  The most common is the standard mechanical hard disk drive which can be found in almost every computer available today. This type of Hard drive stores data on internal disks which spin up when writing/reading data, and have been used since the 1950’s. The downsides to these devices are that they don’t really cope with being moved while operating, and often break when dropped.

The SSD device is the new standard found in most newer PCs and laptops and solves all flaws that came with the standard HDD. With no moving parts they are less likely to break when dropped, they have faster read write speeds and will last longer. The downside is the price and can be expensive.  When deciding on a storage option its a good idea to consider 2 hard drives.  A smaller SSD drive (100GB -250GB) dedicated to your operating system and program files and a second larger traditional mechanical hard drive for your files, music and photos.

To decide on how much storage space you need on your hard drive, consider this – the average hard drive ranges from 120GB – 3000GB, or 3TB (every 1000GB’s = 1TB).

Storage Size

To give you an idea on the size of Hard drive you wil need.

UnitExample
1 kilobyte (KB)/ 1,024 bytesTypical Small Word Document =  150KB
1 megabyte (MB)/  1,048,576 bytes

 

or approximately 1000KB

Typical High Resolution Photo = 1MB

 

1 x min MP3 song = 3MB

1 gigabyte (GB)/ 1,073,741,824 bytes

 

or approximately 1000MB

1000 songs

 

Typical Operating system and Programs

= approximately 50GB

1 terabyte (TB)/  1,099,511,627,776 bytes

 

or approximately 1000GB

1000 x  BluRay’s or 2 hr Movie files
1 petabyte (PB)/ 1,125,899,906,842,624 bytes

 

or approximately 1000TB

1000000 x Photos

Price

  • Cheapest – 1TB HDD = $80
  • Most Expensive – 1TB SDD = $500
  • Mid range – 1TB Hybrid = $200

Physical Dimenson vs Cost (smaller in size, more expensive)

  • Desktop Storage/ Traditional Hard drive = Largest/Cheapest
  • External Storage = Midsize/Moderately expensive
  • Laptop/ SSD Storage = Smallest/ Most expensive

Motherboard

Motherboards are simply the main central component that connects all of your other components together and allows them to communicate with each other.

  • CPU Socket is where you CPU is seated
  • RAM Memory Slots is for your RAM
  • PCI/PCIe Slots are for your graphics card, which houses your GPU
  • Power Connect is where your power supply hooks in
  • Peripheral connects are where you plug your Keyboard/Mouse/Monitors/Hard Drives etc into

Although they may look complicated to set up, they are actually quite simple as they are labelled and colour coded so for ease of use.  For the average desktop, you will be using an AT board which works out fine for most people who simply want to watch movies and surf the internet. For those of you who want to game, or design graphic intensive photos/videos you will require an ATX board to house the larger/higher end Graphics Cards.

When buying a PC off the shelf, don’t worry about the board used, as they will generally not allow different options.

Things to consider:

  • Most importantly will it fit the tower you have picked
  • Does it have enough ports you require (e.g. USB’s, SATA/eSATA, ethernet ports, HDMI’s, audio jacks)
  • Is it compatible with the equipment you want to use (e.g. CPU, Graphics Cards, RAM)
  • Can it keep up with the equipment you have (bottleneck avoidance)

Disk Drives

Disk drives are a part of the computer that read CD’s/DVD’s/BluRay’s. There is not much to consider here other than what you will use the drive for. Whether or not your machine will be burning disks, or whether you want it to be Blu-Ray compatible. Generally, most users opt for a Disk Drive that does it all, as they are quite cheap ranging from 70 – 150$.

Things to consider:

  • Does it play BluRay/DVD/CD?
  • Can it burn BluRay/DVD/CD?

Power Supply

The power supply simply provides power to all of the components in your machine. While it’s doing this, it is converting the power received at the wall (AC) to a low-voltage regulated DC power.

Things to consider

  • Does it has enough wattage to power all of your components?
  • Does it has enough power connectors to connect to your internal sata devices?

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