The Basics of PC Hardware

pc hardware is all the physical parts of a computer system. It includes things like the case, central processing unit (CPU), random access memory (RAM), monitor and video card.

The flat “motherboard” is the base that all other components plug into. At the center of the board is a fingernail-sized CPU chip. The gray stuff on the metal chip cover is thermal paste which helps conduct heat up to the chip’s copper heat sink.


The central processing unit is the core component that makes computers function. It’s a silicon chip that fits in a socket on the motherboard. Its electronic circuitry executes instructions from computer programs and performs fundamental arithmetic logic and input and output operations. The CPU consists of an internal clock and several units, including the arithmetic logic unit (ALU), registers and control unit.

The ALU is a digital circuit that takes inputs, such as data words to be operated on, and information about the instruction being executed, and then computes results. The processor then sends these results over the system bus to other pieces of hardware. All of this happens based on an instruction fetch-decode-execute pattern. The CPU also includes a cache, which is high-speed memory that stores frequently accessed data to improve performance.


When your computer starts up, the information it needs to run is loaded into RAM. This fast memory allows the processor to do its work without having to fetch data from slower storage components like hard drives or solid-state drives.

The speed of your RAM determines how quickly you can open programs and files, and how well you play games. More RAM usually equates to better performance.

RAM is often sold in sticks about the size of a stick of gum that can be easily replaced if you want to upgrade your computer’s performance or capacity. It is also sometimes built into the motherboard, or in smaller “SODIMM” modules that fit into sockets on the board, a feature that makes them less expensive and more compact.


The motherboard is the central piece of hardware that connects all other computer components. It determines what other parts you can use on your build, and it also dictates the output/input ports and expansion slots that are available to you. Choosing the right one is often a difficult task, since it has to be compatible with your chosen CPU as well as your other hardware.

Motherboards consist of a special board called a PCB (printed circuit board) with pathways and copper connecting traces that form different electronic parts. They transmit electronic signals between various components and manage the distribution of electric power optimally. They can also help make a computer operate quieter and more energy-efficient. Its CPU sockets let you install specific Intel or AMD CPUs, so check the type of CPU you want before purchasing a motherboard.

Video Card

The video card (or GPU) is a key part of a computer for gamers or users who require high-powered visual rendering. Its responsibilities include speeding up 2D and 3D graphics rendering for programs like photo editing software, web browsers, and CAD design software.

A discrete graphic card slips into a motherboard expansion slot and is replaceable, allowing you to upgrade your PC over time. Popular manufacturers include Nvidia and AMD.

A dedicated video card has its own onboard memory ranging from 128MB to 2GB and an analog-to-digital converter to take on the responsibility of translating digital signals into an analog signal for the monitor. It is also equipped with output ports such as an HD-15 (standard monitor cable connector), DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort. Some video cards also have TV output and a microphone input.

Internal Buses

An internal bus is a high-speed pathway for the transfer of data between a computer’s processor and its primary memory and other hardware components. There are three main types of computer bus: the address bus, the data bus and the control bus.

The address bus carries the location of the data to be transferred, and the size, or width, of the bus determines how much information can be transmitted at one time. The data bus transfers the actual data, and the control bus transmits control signals between the processor and other hardware.

An external bus, also called an expansion bus, connects the different peripherals to the motherboard. They are made up of electronic pathways and can be parallel or serial. Newer external buses like the PCI bus offer features such as plug-and-play, allowing devices to be added without a lengthy setup procedure.