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Computer Components and Roles

Computer Components and Roles

Author: Sophia Tutorial
Description:

Identify the characteristics and functions of various input, output, and storage devices.

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what's covered
At their core, all personal computers consist of the same basic components: a CPU, memory, circuit board, storage, and input/output devices. Each of these basic components performs a specified function that ultimately works to aid users in performing useful tasks, such as typing a paper, or sending an email message. In this tutorial we will discuss computing systems and their core components. We will also take a look at the role each component plays within the system.

Our discussion breaks down as follows:

  1. Computing Systems
  2. Data Processing Components
  3. Data Storage Components
  4. Input/Output Components


1. Computing Systems

Simply put: a system is a combination of parts that work together to achieve a goal. Based on this definition, we can easily see how a computer fits the description of what a system is. All computers have a way to accept user input and receive instructions from users, a way of delivering data back to the user, a central processing unit, basic hardware, and software.


2. Data Processing Components

After a computer receives data from an input device, the data must be processed before it is sent to an output device such as a monitor. In a computer, a data processing device is any device that is responsible for the storage and retrieval of data. Listed below are the data processing devices located in a computer.

terms to know
Central Processing Unit (CPU)
Most computing devices have a similar architecture. The core of this architecture is the central processing unit (CPU). The CPU can be thought of as the “brains” of the device. The CPU carries out the commands sent to it by the software and returns results to be acted upon.
Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)
The graphics processing unit or GPU is essentially what generates the image(s) on the monitor. It is located internally and typically connects directly to the motherboard. The GPU is more widely referred to as a “video card.”
Motherboard
The motherboard is the main circuit board on the computer. The CPU, memory, and storage components, among other things, all connect into the motherboard. Motherboards come in different shapes and sizes, depending upon how compact or expandable the computer is designed to be. Most modern motherboards have many integrated components, such as video and sound processing, which used to require separate components.
Network Interface Card (NIC)
Commonly referred to as an ethernet card, the network interface card (NIC) is an expansion card that provides a computer with the ability to connect to a network. Most newer model computers have their network interface card built into the motherboard.
Sound Card
The sound card is an expansion card that produces sound through the speakers or headphone. The sound card is also sometimes referred to as the audio card. Sound cards are included with every computer system; however, they are not required by the computer to operate.

Watch: Data Processing Components

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Data processing components are responsible for collecting, structuring, normalizing, and analyzing data. When a computer receives data from an input device, say you type the letter B on your keyboard, something must process an incoming data before it can display the letter on your monitor. This is, of course, a simple example. There are different data processing components that process more complicated digital information, such as images, videos, sounds, and more.

The central processing unit, or CPU, is the core processing component of a computer. The CPU is the brain of the device because it carries out commands sent to it by other components and returns results to be acted upon. The graphics processing unit, or GPU, processes and generates images for display on the monitor. A more common name for the GPU is a video card.

The motherboard is the main circuit board on the computer to which many other components are connected, such as the CPU, memory sticks, hard drive, and video and sound cards. A network interface card, or NIC, also called an ethernet card, allows the computer to connect to a network, such as the internet, and gives the computer access to servers and printers to share resources.

A sound card or audio card is responsible for producing sound through speakers or headphones. Sound cards aren't essential for computers to operate, but they are necessary to be able to hear audio in multimedia files like games or movies.


3. Data Storage Components

In a computer, data storage is handled by several components. Generally, a data storage component is any hardware that can store information temporarily or permanently. Data storage devices are classified as either primary storage or secondary storage. Primary storage refers to internal storage, such as random access memory (RAM). Secondary storage is not readily accessible by the computer and can be internal or external, such as a hard drive or flash drive. Listed below are the data storage components located in a computer.

terms to know
Hard Disk
Most of today’s personal computers use a hard disk for long-term data storage. A hard disk is where data is stored when the computer is turned off and where it is retrieved from when the computer is turned on. Maximum capacity is currently around 2TB.
Solid-State Drives (SSD)
The solid-state drive (SSD) performs the same function as a hard disk: long-term storage. Instead of spinning disks, the SSD uses flash memory, which is much faster. Solid-state drives are currently quite a bit more expensive than hard disks. However, the use of flash memory instead of disks makes them much lighter and faster than hard disks. Maximum capacity is currently around 1TB.
Flash Drives
Around the turn of the century, a new portable storage technology was being developed: the USB flash drive. This device attaches to the universal serial bus (USB) connector, which became standard on all personal computers beginning in the late 1990s. Maximum capacity is currently around 256GB.
Random-Access Memory (RAM)
When a computer starts up, it begins to load information from the hard disk into its working memory. This working memory, called random-access memory (RAM), can transfer data much faster than the hard disk. Any program that you are running on the computer is loaded into RAM for processing. In order for a computer to work effectively, some minimal amount of RAM must be installed. In most cases, adding more RAM will allow the computer to run faster. Another characteristic of RAM is that it is “volatile.” This means that it can store data as long as it is receiving power. When the computer is turned off, any data stored in RAM is lost.
Optical Disc
An optical disc is a form of removable storage media that stores data on the surface of the disc. Compact Disc (CD) and Digital Video Disc (DVD) are examples of optical discs. Maximum capacity is currently 900MB for CDs and 50GB for DVDs.

Watch: Data Storage Components

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There are many different hardware components that store data, either inside the computer itself or in an external or peripheral device. Devices that store data internally are called primary storage devices, and devices that store data externally are called secondary storage devices. Let's begin with the primary storage devices.

Hard drives exist in two different technologies-- a hard disk and a solid-state drive. A hard disk consist of spinning magnetic disks and a solid-state drive uses flash memory. Solid-state drives are faster and lighter, which makes them desirable to users. But they also tend to be more expensive.

Both hard disks and solid-state drives provide long-term storage for computing devices. Memory is stored in the hard drive when the computer is turned off, and when you turn your computer back on, data is retrieved from the hard drive.

Flash drives are small, portable storage devices that connect to the universal serial bus, or USB, connector. USB ports are standard on all personal computers today. So users can store files, such as documents, photos, movies, et cetera, on flash drives and easily transfer files from one device to another.

Random access memory, or RAM, can quickly access and transfer data from the hard disk. When you run a program on your computer, it is loaded into RAM for processing. Generally, the more programs you run at once, the more RAM it uses. And will likely slow down or even freeze if you try to do too much at once. An important difference between RAM storage and hard drive storage is that anything stored in RAM is lost when the devices turn off.

An optical disk is an electronic data storage medium that can be written to and read using a low-powered laser beam. Data is stored as micron-wide dots of light and dark. A laser reads the dots, and the data is converted to an electrical signal, and finally to audio or visual output. There has been a constant succession of optical disk formats, First in CD formats, followed by a number of DVD formats.


4. Input/Output Components

All computers accept input from the keyboard or mouse (or other designated input device), process it, and output it to a monitor (or other designated output device). An input device is any hardware component that sends data into a computer. An output device is any hardware component that sends data out of a computer.

terms to know
Input Device
Any hardware component that sends data into the computer.
Output Device
Any hardware component that sends data out from the computer.

Below are the common input and output devices utilized by most computer systems.

Input Devices

Keyboard
All personal computers need components that allow the user to input data. Keyboards help the user enter text or numbers as input for documents or files. Keyboards are available in different sizes. Some keyboards are designed for ergonomics, while others are designed to be small.

Pointing Device
A pointing device is an input device that moves an on-screen pointer and gives users the ability to click to initialize applications, or to open files. The most common type of pointing device is a mouse. Users move the mouse across a flat surface and press a button to click. Another type of pointing device is a touchpad. A touchpad is a touch-sensitive pad that is built into a notebook computer and is designed to behave like a mouse.

Scanner
Scanners allow users to input documents into a computer, either as images or as text. Most scanners have flat surfaces for users to place documents to be scanned on. However, some scanners feed documents one page at a time. Most scanners utilize the USB interface.

Digital Camera
A digital camera is a device that captures a picture and converts it into digital information. Most digital cameras provide a local storage option until the picture can be transferred to a computer. Typically, a digital camera connects to a computer using the USB interface.

Output Devices

Monitor
A monitor is a device used to display video, images, or text. With a laptop computer, the monitor is built in, and with a desktop computer, the monitor comes as a separate component connected to the system unit via cable (typically VGA). Most monitors are used only for output, but some, such as touchscreen monitors, can be used for both input and output.

Printer
A printer is an output device that generates a hard copy of work created on a computer. All printers do the same basic thing: they print an image on a page. A printer's quality, cost, speed, and overall ability vary.

Some devices can be both input and output devices if they are allowed to get information into the computing system, and also send information back out of the system. For example, a printer that has a scanner is both an input and an output device. A touchscreen is another example. The output is the monitor display, and the input is the touch interactions to click, zoom in, and zoom out.


summary
Computers are systems with multiple components all designed to work in concert for the purpose of data manipulation. In this tutorial, we examined what a computing system is, along with its data processing, data storage components, and its various input/output components.

Source: Derived from Chapters 2 and 3 of “Information Systems for Business and Beyond” by David T. Bourgeois. Some sections removed for brevity. https://www.saylor.org/site/textbooks/Information%20Systems%20for%20Business%20and%20Beyond/Textbook.html

Terms to Know
Central Processing Unit (CPU)

The "brains" of the device; it performs computations and logic operations sent to it by application software, and returns results to be acted upon.

Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)

Generates images on the monitor; also referred to as the video card.

Hard Disk

The location for long-term data storage when the computer is turned off, and where data is retrieved when the computer is turned on.

Input Device

Any hardware component that sends data into the computer.

Motherboard

The main circuit board on the computer to which the CPU, memory, and storage connect.

Network Interface Card

Expansion card that provides a computer with the ability to connect to a network.

Output Device

Any hardware component that sends data out from the computer.

Random-Access Memory (RAM)

The working memory of a computer that transfers data from the hard disk upon starting the device.

Sound Card

Expansion card that produces sound through the speakers or headphone.