What’s in Your PC Hardware?

Find reviews, tests, and deep-dive articles on the pc hardware that makes modern computers tick. This includes the processor, motherboard, RAM, video card, and storage.

A single dual-core CPU is adequate for most home and business applications. More cores are only needed for very specialized tasks, like encoding video.


The CPU is the heart and brain of your computer, executing instructions to complete tasks like calling friends or opening web browsers. It completes calculations using billions of microscopic transistors, running software that translates tasks into 0’s and 1’s. It can be found in desktop computers, laptops and even smart devices such as tablets and smartphones.

There are four primary functions of a CPU: fetch, decode, execute and write back. The fetch phase retrieves instructions from program memory in the system’s RAM. The instruction is decoded, the kind of operation and operand is extracted, and the execution phase performs the operation. The results are stored in registers.

Multi-core processors perform multiple operations simultaneously enabling tasks to be completed faster. They are ideal for power users that demand high performance and maximum multitasking capabilities.


The motherboard is the central hub connecting a computer’s functional components so they can interact. It has a variety of slots to install different modular components, like RAM and hard disks.

It also has a built-in operating system that manages the interactions between hardware components. It is also responsible for distributing power and keeping track of all the different parts of your computer.

Motherboards come in a range of sizes depending on how much connectivity you require. ATX motherboards are commonly used and feature a single or dual CPU configuration, with up to 8 ram slots.

They also feature connectors for storage devices like SATA and M.2. All these components generate heat while performing different functions, so a cooling fan is attached to the motherboard to keep it cool.


RAM keeps important currently-used data and codes on hand for immediate processing, so your PC can run faster. It’s not the same as storage, which retains data even after you shut off your computer.

Memory operates at a much higher speed than storage, thanks to DDR technology that syncs it up with the system clock. This allows the chip to deliver data at each pulse of the system clock, rather than just when the peak is reached.

Your computer can have RAM soldered onto the motherboard or removable modules called DIMMs that plug into it. Larger systems like laptops and desktops typically use the latter. There are also expansion slots, which let you add devices like graphics and video cards. These plug into sockets on the motherboard, which requires opening the system unit.

Video Card

A video card allows the computer to send graphical information to a monitor or TV. It is also referred to as a graphics adapter or display adapter.

Video cards contain a graphics processor, which is dedicated to creating images; a digital-to-analog converter; and memory chips that store display data. They are usually designed to fit comfortably inside a PC case and look the part too.

They follow industry standards, so you can compare features such as color depth and resolution to determine which is the best for your needs. You can identify your video card in Windows through the Device Manager or a free system information tool like Speccy. Alternatively, you can open up your computer and physically inspect it. Updates to video cards are typically done via the same process as updating other hardware drivers.

Hard Drive

The hard drive is the central storage device that holds all the information a computer has saved. It consists of circular platters coated with magnetic material and a read/write head that spins around them.

All digital data comes in the form of ones and zeroes, each represented by a tiny portion of the platter that has either a positive or negative magnetism. The read/write head reads these bits and sends them back to the CPU, telling it which file to open or which part of an application to update.

The hard drive can be internal or external, and is typically connected to the motherboard via an ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment) or S-ATA (Serial Advanced Technolgoy Attachment) connection. There are also newer interfaces such as SAS (Serial ATA) that offer increased speed and reliability.