The Basics of PC Hardware

While PC parts are better labeled and cheaper today, their overall makeup hasn’t changed much. A central processor still serves as the computer’s hub and all other hardware connects to it; a chip called RAM keeps important currently-used data and codes ready for instant access; and a hard drive stores permanent files.


A processor, also known as a microprocessor or central processing unit, is the heart of your computer. It handles basic instructions and tells your computer’s other hardware what to do.

The CPU is a silicon chip that’s separate from the RAM where data is stored and from the graphics card that renders images and 3D video on your screen. It is also different from storage devices like hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSD).

The CPU’s main function is to process instructions that are sent by the operating system or software. It can do this with the help of circuitry called a control unit, which fetches the instructions from memory and decodes them before sending them to other parts of the CPU for execution.


RAM is the short-term memory your computer uses to open files and work with them. It helps the CPU, graphics card, and other ICs quickly access data from your computer’s slower storage devices (like HDDs or SSDs).

When you click a link to go to a new website or play a video game, the computer moves that information from RAM to the long-term storage of the hard drive or SSD. That transfer takes more work than reading from RAM.

Modern RAM is usually double-data rate synchronous DRAM (DDR SDRAM). It’s designed to perform two data transfers in one CPU clock cycle. It’s non-volatile, meaning it keeps its state even without power. It’s also available in easily replaceable modules the size of a stick of gum, as well as in soldered on and embedded components.

Graphics Card

The graphics card takes the instructions from your computer’s central processor unit (CPU) and turns them into images for your monitor or display. It is able to process binary data quickly and converts it into pixels, tiny squares of color that create a complete image on your screen. A higher-end card can generate more pixels per second, which determines how detailed a 3-D image can be.

The GPU is a specialized processor designed for parallel processing. Its core tasks include geometry processing, which calculates the shapes and positions of objects in virtual space. It also processes how artificial light interacts with those objects. It stores this information in a pool of video random-access memory, also called VRAM.

Integrated cards are built directly into many laptops and desktop computers. They use the CPU to do graphical calculations and are typically less expensive than standalone cards.


The motherboard is the primary circuit board that holds all the other components of your computer together. It’s like the backbone, nervous system and circulatory system all in one.

It also connects expansion cards (sound cards, video cards or network adapters) through pathways called buses. Motherboards typically have multiple SATA connectors for connecting hard drives.

The motherboard is home to the central processor, which is a microprocessor that controls everything your computer does. It also has a RAM slot to install memory modules, which provide the brainpower for the computer. It also includes a CMOS battery, which is a small coin-cell lithium CR2032 battery that saves the BIOS settings when the computer is turned off. Also, the motherboard has a power connector to deliver electrical currents to the CPU and other parts of the computer.