Components of Personal Computers

A personal computer is part of everyday life in the modern days.  This article gives a brief introduction to the components of personal computers, especially desktop computers.  It aims to help computer users to understand more about the machines they use at home and office.

From a physical point of view, a typical computer consists of the keyboard, mouse, monitor and the main machine.  There are additional devices e.g. printers, scanners speakers.  The focus of this article is on the components inside the main machine:

Processor: Also known as the Central Processing Unit (CPU), it is the heart of a personal computer.  It performs computation and executes computer programs.  It is connected to the motherboard at the processor socket.  As the processor generates a lot of heat during its operation, a heat sink and a fan are installed on top of the processor to cool it down.

Motherboard: Also known as the main board, it connects all computer components together and facilitates data transfer between the components.  It provides standard interfaces e.g. processor socket, RAM slot, PCI Express slots, USB ports so that internal and external devices can all connect to the motherboard.

RAM: Random Access Memory is where the computer uses for temporary data storage during its operation.  The processor performs its computation using the program and data stored in the RAM.  The size and speed of the RAM are two of the main factors that affect the performance of a computer.  RAM is connected to the motherboard at the RAM slots.  All data in the RAM is lost when the computer turns off.

Hard Drives: A computer uses the hard drives for permanent data storage i.e. the data stays there even the computer is turned off.  They are usually connected to the motherboard through the SATA interface.

Video Card: The video card provides additional processing on graphical data and outputs video signal to the monitor.  It is usually connected to the PCI Express interface on the motherboard.  As some motherboards provide on-board video card, it is not necessary for those computers to have a separate video card.

Audio Card: The audio card provides additional processing on audio data and outputs audio signal to the monitor.  It is usually connected to the PCI Express interface on the motherboard.  As some motherboards provide on-board audio card, it is not necessary for those computers to have a separate audio card.

Network Interface Controller: It is used for network connection and is an essential component for all modern computers.  The motherboard usually provides on-board network interface controllers for wired network connection.  For wireless connection, a user can add a wireless LAN card to the system or use a USB wireless LAN adaptor.

Optical disc drive: It is used to read and write data from and to optical discs e.g. DVD, CD.  It is usually connected to the motherboard through the SATA interface.  It is also possible to use external USB optical disc drive.  An advantage of external disc drive is that multiple computers can share the same disc drive.  There is no need to spend money on a number of internal optical drives.

Power Supply Unit (PSU): All components in the main machine require electricity to function.  The PSU is connected to the motherboard and disk drives to supply electricity to them.

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