A Beginner’s Guide to PC Hardware

If you’re a computer novice, buying a basic pre-built model is the way to go. They’re easy to use, come with warranties and are generally cheaper than building a PC yourself.

In 2022, minimum specs for games started climbing at a much faster rate than I’ve ever seen before. But what exactly is responsible for this?


Motherboards act as the skeleton of the computer and connect the different internal hardware components. They also provide electrical power and have ports that allow users to install expansion cards or devices like hard drives. Depending on the type of motherboard, it will have slots for CPU and RAM installation and other connectors. It will also have a firmware chip that stores the Basic Input/Output System or its more modern successor, the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI).

A motherboard’s most important job is to support other hardware components by physically connecting them with cables and relaying data between them. The CPU, for example, sends instructions that make up desktop programs to other internal hardware components via the motherboard’s buses. The motherboard interprets those signals and converts them into the proper format for each device.


The heart of any computer is its processor, which performs the calculations that drive it. Also known as a microprocessor, it takes in program instructions and executes trillions of calculations to produce the output that the user will interface with.

The CPU has four primary functions: fetch, decode, execute and write back. Fetch is where the CPU retrieves its instructions from a system’s RAM; decode, where it converts those instructions into binary form; execute, where it does what needs to be done; and write back where it stores the results of its operations.

Today, Intel (with a market share of 80 per cent) and AMD both manufacture processors for desktop PCs. Examples include Intel’s basic Celerons and Pentium chips, along with its Core range that includes i3, i5, i7 and i9 processors.

Graphics Card

A graphics card renders images onto a display, be it a computer monitor or an HD video game. Graphics cards come in a variety of specifications, and the best way to find out what type of GPU is installed on your desktop or laptop is by using Windows’ built-in System Information app.

A dedicated graphics card (known as a discrete GPU) can be added to your PC, giving it an upgrade in graphical performance over the integrated GPU. It allows for higher pixel rations, higher resolutions and even 3-D imagery.

Graphics cards also feature various expansion ports including HDMI, TV and multiple monitor support. Like the CPU, GPUs generate a lot of heat which can cause damage, so they are designed with fans to keep them cool.


Computer hardware components like the central processing unit (CPU) and random access memory (RAM) work closely together. The CPU guides the computer as it processes data, much like the brain does a body. The speed at which it does this is called its ‘clock speed’ and is measured in gigahertz (GHz).

In addition to clock speed, a processor’s cache and front side bus (FSB) speed also determine how fast it performs. RAM — a volatile component meaning that anything stored in it gets erased when the power is turned off — comes in a variety of densities and speeds, with desktop PCs most effectively run using identical sets of DIMM modules fitted to matching slots on the motherboard, known as a channel. Modern motherboards accommodate two DIMMs per channel, so are known as dual-channel.

Hard Drive

It’s important to consider your storage needs when selecting a hard drive. Some users prefer online storage or a larger capacity than others.

Internal hard drives are housed in a drive bay and connect directly to the motherboard, but they can also be found in stand-alone devices like external enclosures. External hard drives typically have one or more external interfaces that determine how they connect to the computer, such as USB, eSATA or FireWire.

HDDs store data using magnetic platters that spin quickly as they’re read by heads. This requires moving parts and can be fragile, so it’s a good idea to invest in a mechanical hard drive with a sturdy case. However, many modern computers use SSDs that have no moving parts and operate much faster.