The term pc hardware refers to the components that make up a personal computer. This includes everything from the CPU and random-access memory to the monitor, mouse and keyboard.
The most important pieces of PC hardware are the RAM and storage device. These are what makes your computer run smoothly and efficiently.
The CPU, or central processing unit, is the brains of any computer. It performs calculations and logical comparisons billions of times per second. It also moves data, including input from other parts of the system and output from the system to other hardware.
The CPU is made up of a million or more microscopic transistors on a silicon chip. These transistors act like tiny switches that alternate between on and off, conveying the binary ones and zeros of stored program instructions.
The arithmetic and logic unit performs the basic math of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The control unit uses electrical signals to direct other parts of the system to execute these instructions at a rate determined by the clock speed. Today’s CPUs use multiple cores, allowing them to handle more tasks simultaneously.
The motherboard acts as an electrical highway connecting all the different parts of a computer to communicate with each other. It takes input from the user and sends instructions to other components to perform a task. The CPU (central processing unit) is a main part of the motherboard.
Other important components include a power connector, CMOS battery (also known as the memory battery and real-time clock battery), and expansion slots for devices like GPUs and storage drives. These devices use electricity to function, and they generate heat that requires a cooling fan attached to the motherboard.
Motherboards also come in different “form factors,” which refer to their size, shape and layout. Popular form factors include ATX, Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX. Motherboards in these form factors vary in how many expansion slots and ports they have.
Unless you’re an avid gamer or run demanding applications that require extra graphics processing power, you probably don’t need to buy a dedicated video card. Instead, you can opt to use the integrated video chip built into your motherboard and save money.
A dedicated graphics card (also known as a GPU, graphic processing unit) works in a similar way to a computer’s CPU by taking information from the memory and transforming it into the images on a screen. The more powerful cards can even render 3D graphics / scenes very rapidly.
Besides gaming, high-end cards are used for ray tracing and graphics production as well as to mine cryptocurrency. They also work alongside the CPU to improve computer performance. In addition, some GPUs have enough raw processing power to be used for other tasks such as computational photography and machine learning.
The hard drive is the primary storage device in a computer. It stores digital data using spinning platters coated with magnetic material and read/write heads. Storage capacities range from a few gigabytes to several terabytes.
The disk controller sends instructions to the drive’s read/write head via the PCB, directing it to sweep across the platter surfaces. Each platter has thousands of subdivisions that accept a magnetic charge, which translate to binary 1s or 0s. The resulting string of bytes informs the CPU what to do next, whether it be opening a saved document or updating an operating system.
The aluminum base supports the drive’s prominent components and promotes thermal dissipation. It also contains diodes to protect the HDD from electrical surges and faulty power supplies.
RAM, or random access memory, holds the data that your processor needs to run programs and open files. It processes information significantly faster than data stored on a hard drive — up to a hundred times faster, depending on the hardware and task at hand.
When you open a program on your computer, it takes a while to load the required information into memory from storage or the hard disk. But once the program has loaded, it can be accessed and used instantly.
The most common type of RAM in desktop computers is SDRAM (synchronous dynamic random access memory). SDRAM synchronizes with the CPU clock, sending data whenever the pulse at the top of the clock signal passes through. It has evolved over the years and is now referred to as DDR4, with higher speeds, lower power consumption, and larger capacities.