Computers: How On Earth Do They Work?

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Earlier this year, news broke that inmates in a US jail had spent their spare time building two computers, allowing them to use the internet as much as they pleased. If prisoners can build a computer with limited supplies and tools, it makes you wonder whether anyone could build one.

Building a computer from scratch allows you to customize the design to ensure that it is a perfect fit for your needs. Of course, doing so can be daunting – a computer is a highly complex machine, which makes building one a difficult process.

With that in mind, we wanted to delve a little deeper and investigate the inner workings of computers, to help you understand what goes into building a computer and making it run effectively.

What does a computer need to run?

Process socket: The processing socket that is selected for a computer determines which CPU can be used. This is because if the CPU doesn’t fit, it can’t be used. Both Intel and AMD both have a range of CPUs and sockets that are only compatible with their chips. For this reason, it’s recommended that you select your processor first and then your motherboard second,to ensure that it all fits together perfectly.

CPU: CPU stands for central processing unit, this is known as the ‘brains’ of the computer. It’s also referred to as the processor. What a computer’s CPU does is execute a sequence of specialist instructions known as a program. To control the speed that the processor works at, an oscillator is used – this also helps the computer to keep track of time. Not only can CPUs be used in computers but also smartphones, washing machines, and DVD players. When it comes to selecting a CPU, there are various factors to take into account, these include performance, price, and power consumption. It’s also vital to understand workloads and which is best for your computer – there are two main types, these are single-threaded and multi-threaded. Single-threaded workloads are made for dealing with simple tasks like browsing the internet, sending emails and listening to music. Whilst multi-threaded workloads are made for more complex tasks like photo editing, video encoding, and gaming. It’s also worth considering whether you plan on overclocking – raising the CPU’s clock speed past the targeted maximum to help improve performance. To make overclocking work, a motherboard with a specialist chipset is usually required.

Motherboard: A motherboard is a printed circuit board that contains the most important components of a computer – it can also be used for a range of other devices too. The motherboard allocates the power of a computer and is in control of communication to the CPU, as well as to the RAM (memory) and other hardware components. It also controls the RAM capacity that can be used. Motherboards come in a range of sizes, with the most common motherboard size being Intel’s Advanced Technology Extended (ATX) and its derivatives like the FlexATX, Mini ATX, and Standard ATX. Motherboard sizes don’t just indicate the size of the board but also the layout of the board’s components.

Memory: A computer’s memory is a piece of hardware that is able to store information for immediate or later use. There are different kinds of memory, RAM – random access memory – is a type of memory that stores information on a circuit that can then be accessed by software and hardware, including the operating system. Most computers have two storage devices: RAM and a hard drive. Unlike RAM, a hard drive can be removable and external or internal.

Power supply: The PSU (power supply unit) is an internal piece of hardware that a computer needs to be able to run. The power supply converts energy from an alternating current to a lower voltage direct current which is usable by the computer. Every part of the computer is operated by the power supply, from the RAM to the motherboard, each uses power from the PSU. A mistake that you don’t want to make when it comes to the power supply of your computer is choosing a cheap PSU, instead it’s better to make an investment. Each computer has its own power needs but usually there are two factors that matter most: overall wattage and overall power that is required for a system to function properly. To help you determine how much power you need, there are power supply calculators that you can use online.

Optical drive: An ODD (optical disk drive) uses light or electromagnetic waves to read or write data to form or record certain disks. The three main types of optical media are DVDs, CDs, and Blu-ray discs.

Those are the main components that go into building a computer, but there are also various other parts that are also included. Hopefully, the list of items that a computer is made up of will help you to gain a better understanding of how a computer works and what it takes for a computer to run effectively.

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