This is a very basic guide about what components are used and what they do on a PC whether a Windows Machine, Apple, or Laptop the basic components are the same. This is not an exhaustive list by any means this is just a basic way to explain what various parts are and the buzz words. I may get a little geeky and detailed in some places, however, I will do my best to explain in a way that hopefully anyone will be able to understand from a high level. So let’s get started.
I will be mostly talking about Desktop PC, Windows Machines, but the same principle applies to all computers
Believe it or not there are only eight components of hardware required to make a PC work. Please understand that these hardware components are purchased intact and put together in a way that makes the PC work as a fully functioning pc. There is software involved also to make it actually do things beside be pretty *cough Windows as example, however, this guide is about the hardware not the software, although it may get mentioned periodically but by no means will this guide be an exhaustive guide to software.
- RAM (memory)
- Storage (hard drive)
- GPU (video card)
- Power Supply
That is right those eight components are what you put together to make a PC run. Now let’s talk about what each one does, again, to be clear this is not a detailed tech manual on understanding everything about each component. This is to give a bird’s eye view to understand the role of each component and their functions. I will have more detailed understanding on other future guides.
I am a sci-fi geek, I mean I love sci-fi. Star Wars, Star Trek, The Matrix, Dr. Who and even the 80’s T.V. mini-series ‘V’ which is why I bring this up. In the show V it is about aliens who come to earth and place mother ships all around the planet. Then the aliens used this as a way to house all their people, technology, send out scouts, ambassadors, and smaller ships to Earth. This is exactly what a motherboard is, it is like the mothership. It is how all the components connect to each other. It has slots available and connections so that one peripheral can talk to another. It takes information from one location and sends it to another. It both sends and receives data based on the instructions the user (you & me) send to it. The motherboard however, is a passive system. In other words it does not make any decisions or store any information it is used to have components talk to one another and have pathways available so each one can communicate to each other accordingly.
The CPU or Central Processing Unit is the brains. This is the work horse. This is the component that brings it all together. It sits inside the motherboard and has millions of small transistors to send and receive millions of instructions. The CPU is measured in Clock Rate or Hz. So if you hear someone say they have a CPU that runs at 3.5GHz which means it can execute 3.5 billion cycles per second. As of writing this guide all chipsets (CPU’s) are in the Gigahertz range which is Billion. Older chipsets ran in Megahertz which is millions, Kilohertz is thousands, Hertz is 100’s <-- told you I would geek out from time to time, back to CPU. Like I said this is the brain, this is where all the magic happens to read more about it please click this here. As of this guide there are 2 major CPU or chip manufacturers Intel & AMD. I am not here to argue and provide who is better, they both have their pros and cons. I will in the future do a deeper dive into what these pros and cons are.
RAM or Read Access Memory is the memory that is used to store ‘temporary’ information or data. First-in-first-out method of information: in other words when you open an application like Microsoft Word or Apex Legends once the CPU gets the instruction from the user it then sends it into memory to have readily available (this is a very basic explanation). Essentially then the application/software is now stored in memory until it is closed out or full. RAM (memory) is measured in Gigabytes and the same principles apply as explained in the hertz. Gigabyte = 1 billion, Megabytes = 1 Million so on and so forth. Memory is fairly cheap and is essential as the more RAM the more applications you can use at the same time. Please know, that RAM is also passive like the motherboard it only stores what you put in it. Once you close out a program it it is suppose to leave your memory (it doesn’t because of bad written code of instruction), however, that is the idea. However, once you restart (reboot) your computer all memory inside of RAM is lost and reset. So in order to play Apex Legends again on first run after a reboot, takes a little longer the first time as it was not in RAM until you told it to open. If you want more detailed information check out this link.
Storage is probably better known by many as a hard drive. This is the component that is where your data is stored long term and in some instances ‘forever’. Your OS (Operating System) like Windows, iOS, Linux, and even Android are stored. There a a few types of hard drives but essentially they do the same thing. When you are on your PC or Mac and you want to install a new piece of software or game it gets stored on your hard drive. That is how when you load up your computer and then open up that application or game how it knows how to go and grab it to load it up. If you restart you computer the information is still stored in the same place it was prior to the reboot. There are basically 3 different types of storage today used as of writing this, you could argue and say only 2, but I am not going to split hairs here. This is not an opinion post it is a basic guide on various components that make a computer work. The types of storage are HDD, SSD, and nVME.
An HDD is a data storage device that lives inside the computer. It has spinning disks inside where data is stored magnetically.The HDD has an arm with several “heads” (transducers) that read and write data on the disk. It is similar to how a turntable record player works, with an LP record (hard disk) and a needle on an arm (transducers). The arm moves the heads across the surface of the disk to access different data.
SDD of Solid State Drives via Intel -SSDs got their name—solid state—because they use solid state devices under the hood. In an SSD, all data is stored in integrated circuits. This difference from HDDs has a lot of implications, especially in size and performance. Without the need for a spinning disk, SSDs can reduce to the shape and size of a stick of gum (what’s known as the M.2 form factor) or even as small as a postage stamp. Their capacity—or how much data they can hold—varies, making them flexible for smaller devices, such as slim laptops, convertibles, or 2 in 1s. And SSDs dramatically reduce access time since users don’t have to wait for platter rotation to start up.
NVMe is a smaller form factor of SSD known as non volatile memory. It is smaller and takes up less room. It essentially does the same thing as SSD and HDD. Like I already mentioned they all do the same thing, it is just how they do and in what form. It will always be faster speeds using solid state drive as your storage, however, is it as reliable. So far, yes as data shows. At this point it is about cost on which one to use.
HDD you get much more storage even in the Terabytes (that is trillion btw) and it is fairly cheap. SSD is catching up for sure and will eventually phase out HDD IMHO, however, HDD are a reliable source of storage and have been around many more years than the Solid State Drive. The biggest difference I see is mechanical vs. non-mechanical, in other words you can easily crash (break) an HDD more often than an SDD as I have learned over the years. As I will be talking about in future posts, a backup plan no matter what type of storage you use is essential.
This one is not necessarily a controversial one and is essential, but the type of cooling is and will always be up for debate. Cooling is exactly as it says, it is used to cool your components. All electronic components get extremely hot especially underload. The CPU will actually shut off as a fail-safe if it is not cooled. So cooling is essential. There are two basic cooling methods using fans and using liquid. Both work just fine if you are going to use out of the box as long as you are meeting the rating specs of cooling to component ratio. Not all, but most chipsets come with an option to buy a bundle with the CPU usually a fan. There is a heat sync that sits on top of the CPU when dissipates heat and a fan that sits on top of the heat sync which cools the heat sync. Now, the cooling with liquid method does the exact same thing except it uses a water. It uses a radiator (just like in your vehicle) with coils that cools the hot water and does this over and over in a continuous loop. Now if you want to overclock you components like your CPU & GPU then you probably are not reading this guide as that is for someone who is a little more advanced and hopefully knows what type of cooling is needed based on what they are trying to do. However, cooling is essential and your PC could break if not cooled properly. I have only talked about the CPU cooling, the rest of the rig also needs to be cooled as well. The fans pull in air from one direction and exit another. This helps with the liquid cooling radiator as well. The goal is not to have it spin inside the PC but instead in one way out the other.
Graphical Processing Unit or GPU is where your graphics are generated. Gaming, Cad Design, Photoshop, Illustrator, or whatever you do is all used by the GPU to display the images on screen. There is a process in the graphics card just like the CPU on the motherboard, Essentially this helps alleviate the load on the CPU to help drive whatever graphics you are trying to display. Some GPUs are built into the motherboard or system board especially on laptops. However, most gamers spend more money on GPU than any other component in their rigs, this is because this helps with latency and FPS <-- these are geeky terms. The major companies that offer GPUs are Nvidia & Radeon. NVidia is Intel while Radeon is AMD (go figure). Again, I am not going to give my opinion who which one is better, they both have their pros and cons. I personally have never owned a Radeon only NVidia so I would be bias anyway. They have both memory and chipset on the cards. They connect to the monitor from your PC using a cable.
The Final Basic Component would be the Power Supply. Yes, you have to have power in order for all the components to work. There really isn’t like a ton of explanation here or great detail to explain on a basic level. The power supply in a desktop is plugged into the wall (commercial power), then it converts the AC power to DC. You can read here in this article about choosing the correct power supply for desktops. For laptop’s the power supply is the battery. Now the battery is charged from an AC power source, but essentially the battery is what powers a laptop.
Well that about does it, now you would also need a case, but you can actually put a PC together w/out a case, I would not recommend it unless you know what you are doing, however, it can be done. I hope this helped anyone who is just starting out in the PC Hardware world as it is a great hobby to get into. Until next time happy PCing.