What You Need to Know About Your PC Hardware

A responsible PC owner should know about the hardware that runs their machine. It helps to avoid trips to the computer store and saves money on repair bills.

All computers require some type of non-volatile storage for operating systems and data files. Current options include internal solid state drives and hard disks.


The motherboard is the primary circuit board that holds all of the other components in place. It doesn’t perform much computation on its own, but it moves power around and connects all of the other hardware to one another.

It also has slots for RAM modules: sticks of volatile memory that hold software applications and user data for fast retrieval. Modern motherboards may support up to four PCIe (piggyback) low-latency data lanes that can run much faster than the older SATA connections.

The motherboard also ensures that electric current is distributed optimally to all of the different system components. This makes the motherboard a vital part of any computer’s design. Motherboards come in several form factors, including the compact M.2 format that fits small expansion devices such as NVMe solid-state drives.


The central processing unit, or CPU, is the ‘brain’ of your computer. It solves all the complex algorithms and programming that your computer does while running applications or software.

CPUs are small silicon circuits that fit inside a computer’s case. They can be found in desktop computers as well as laptops.

Processors have four primary functions: fetch, decode, execute and write back. The system clock (which sends electric pulses to other parts of the processor at regular intervals) is one of these functions, and its speed determines how quickly your computer can function.

The arithmetic logic unit performs math and logical operations, the floating point unit manipulates numbers that include a decimal, and the register holds instructions received from other parts of the processor. The processor also includes L1 and L2 cache memory, which saves time compared to getting information from the system RAM.


RAM acts as a computer’s short-term memory, taking in information that may be needed soon and storing it for quick access by the CPU or graphics card. It remains available until the program is closed or restarted, at which point it’s cleared and prepared to accept new data.

The memory’s non-volatile data uses a combination of transistors and capacitors to store an electrical charge that corresponds to data bits. These are accessed in sequence by the CPU and stored back in the memory cells, whose voltage level determines how quickly they can be read and written to.

Most desktop PCs use synchronous double-data rate random-access memory (SDRAM), which performs two data transfers in a single clock cycle, improving performance and efficiency. For optimum speed, the memory must be installed in matching sets of slots or “banks” on the motherboard.

Optical Drive

A computer’s optical drive can read and record CD, DVD and Blu-Ray formats. Optical drives can be internal or external, and are typically included in laptop computers.

Most optical drives can also play back data files such as mp3, jpg, and txt. However, they cannot read a variety of file types that are commonly found on the internet, including doc, xls, and txt.

The back end of the optical drive contains a port for a cable that connects to the motherboard. Many optical drives also have jumper settings on the back end that define how the motherboard recognizes them.