Big Bad Guide to Computer Components

Here is a general guide on the components of the computer, what they do, and what usually happens when they get damaged / malfunction.

Computer Case:

This is probably what 75% of the people in the world with a computer only see. They most likely never open this thing up and actually see what makes their computer work. There are several different sizes of computer cases. The main two however are Mid-Tower and Tower. Tower being around twice the size of a Mid-Tower and able to pack a lot more stuff into it. There are also "portable" cases that just look like big blocks.

A computer case can have several different uses depending on the quality of the manufacturer and the design. A few things it is used for are:

Protecting your hardware!

Cooling your hardware!

Providing easy access to your motherboard and other components, such as the back of the computer with all those nifty plugs and holes? Yeah when you plug something in back there it hooks up to either the motherboard or components such as graphics cards, sound cards, etc.

So the computer cases main function is basically to ensure that your hardware does not get damaged, and makes it easy for people who do not know much about computers to easy hook all the components up and make it run.

Power Supply Unit (PSU) –

Probably one of the most important parts of your computer (well they are all important) and provides power to your motherboard, graphics card, and everything else that needs power in your case. Most people only know the power supply as the thing you plug the cord in to get power from a socket to the computer. They also have a nifty fan next to the plug!

Low quality power supplies often come with a case, however you can always upgrade to a higher quality brand such as Corsair or PCP & C.

A power supply has a slew of cables for connecting to different things such as the motherboard, disk drives, case fans, graphics cards etc.

Now the most important things you need to look at when you purchase a power supply is the brand and the amount of Watts it puts out. As long as you get a brand that is 1st-3rd tier you should be fine. As for figuring out how many Watts you need to power your computer, check out a power supply calculator through Google.

Motherboard (MOBO):

Now this is the most important part of any computer. If the motherboard breaks, your best of buying a whole new computer without you have customized it yourself. Motherboards contain a slew of connectors and slots and when you put your first computer together it might be a little intimidating not knowing where to plugin things.

Modern motherboards at minimum contain the following:

[*] A main socket where you insert the CPU which is then usually covered with a large heat sink and / or fan.
[*] Slots where the systems memory is placed (RAM).
[*] A chip-set which forms an interface between the CPU's front-side bus, main memory, and peripheral buses.
[*] Non-volatile memory chips containing the system's firmware or BIOS for when you start up your computer
[*] A clock generator which acts as a timer to synchronize the computers different components together.
[*] Expansion card slots, such as those for Video or Sound cards.
[*] Main power connector, which receives electrical power from the PSU and distributes it to the CPU, chip-set, main memory, and sometimes the expansion cards, except of course they provided their own power by the PSU.

It is crucial to always keep your motherboard cool, either through a heat sink and fan, liquid cooling, or additional case fans. The hotter your MOBO gets, the shorter its life is and the more likely it is to die. If your motherboard dies, you will notice that your computer will not be able to function. If, however you notice problems with a lot of your hardware at once (such as graphics messing up, as well as keyboard and mouse not working) then most likely there is a problem with your motherboard.

Central Processing Unit (CPU):

The CPU is the brains of the computer and its operations operations. If you notice that your computer is running slow, a outdated or bad CPU could be the problem.

On laptops and desktop computers, the CPU is housed in a single chip known as a microprocessor. Motherboards and CPU's are designed for each other, so do not try to put a brand new CPU into a 4 year old motherboard, it will not work! If you ever open up your computer, most likely you will not see your CPU, all you will see is a large heat sink and a fan. The heat sink usually looks like a big block of thin metal sheets stacked closely together. The idea is to create the largest surface area possible in the smallest amount of space to dissipate the most heat possible.

As technology has grown over the years, there have been more and more advances in CPU power, originally having only one core, but now the newer versions contain as many as 4. The more cores you have, the more power you are able to crank out of the microprocessor. Multi-core processors also have the multithread ability (they can use applications that specifically support working all 2 or 4 cores of the CPU). 64 bit versions of operating systems are specifically designed for multi-core CPUs

Random Access Memory (RAM):

Random Access Memory (which I will refer to as RAM) is a form of computer data storage that stores temporary data in any order to be accessed at any time regardless of its physical location and whether or not it is related to the previous piece of data .

The type of RAM hierarchy goes as follows


Pretty simple eh? You can usually tell what type of RAM your computer has by the date it was built. If it was built very recently and is a high quality computer then it most likely has a DDR3 RAM, if it was built a few years ago or it is a regular computer built today then it most likely has DDR2. If it is a very old computer then it most likely has DDR RAM.

Ram comes in several different stick sizes, ranging from 512mb stick to 2gb stick and soon to be 4gb sticks. The more RAM you have, the faster your computer will run. However make sure that you do not put to much in, as it will be a waste of money, and your CPU might act as a bottleneck so that that extra RAM goes to no use.

A few important numbers other then the main type of RAM are its Data Rate (measured in MT / s, or millions of transvers per second), Command Rate (Also known as Clock Rate, measured in Hz), and the CAS latency (usually 4 sequential numbers).

Generally the higher the Data Rate and Command Rate (which is usually half of the Data Rate) the better. CAS latency, which measures the delay time between the memory controller and memory module, is usually best when it is a low number.

If you are unsure how these names and numbers would relate to quality, just make sure to get RAM from a good brand. Some of the best include Corsair, Crucial and Kingston.

Graphics Card:

Ahh the graphics card, probably the most sought after and customized part of the computer. Most low end computers do not include a graphics card, but rather an embedded graphics chip in the motherboard. I would avoid these computers at all cost, because most likely you will be unable to play modern video games.

The two major graphic chipsets manufacturers are nVidia and ATI. However there are actually hundreds of graphics card manufacturers. Some of the well known ones are BFG, SAPPHIRE, XFX, and EVGA.

The ideal graphics card for you all depends on your need for it and your price range. Also you need to make the decision for nVidia or ATI, I personally prefer nVidia however ATI is just as good. Both companies seem to match their cards shot for shot, making sure one does not blow away the other. Rather then go into a-depth decision of graphics card comparisons, I thought I would link you to a great article on tomsharedware. They always do very good in-depth reviews of graphics cards.,2323.html

Hard Drive:

Well, hard drives are probably one of the most basic parts of a computer, they are used to store files, programs, etc.

Types of Storage Drives:

Hard Drives – These simply contain one, or multiple, rotating disks. These can range in storage from low GB to 1.5-2TB drives. They also come in different speeds, which effect how fast your able to access stored data. The regular speed is 7,200 rpm, but faster and more expensive drives can reach higher than 10,000 rpm.

Besides the storage space and drive speed, it is also important to get your drive from a good manufacturer, because saving a few bucks getting it from a bad company can mean hard drive failure a few years, or months, down the road. Western Digital, Seagate, Hitachi and a few more are reliable brands.

Solid State Drives – No moving parts, no rotating disks, much faster, much more expensive.

I can not say much about SSD's here, since I have never owned one. Although they come in smaller storage sizes and are much more expensive, I have heard they are amazingly fast compared to regular hard drives. They also have a lower life span however.

I am thinking of getting one for a new netbook, just to make it as fast as possible in the smallest container. If your looking for max speed on your computer, put your Operating System on a SSD, and it will scream.

Note: There are also external and flash drives, but those are not part of a computer, and they are easy to use anyway!

Optical Drives:

Pretty simple, they are used for CD / DVD / Blue Ray reading. If the drive has a RW or or RW tacked on the end of it, it means it can both read and write CD / DVD / Blue Rays.

Source by Curtis Larson

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *