Central Processing Unit (CPU)
What is a CPU?: The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is responsible for interpreting and executing most of the commands from the computer’s hardware and software.
The CPU could be considered the “brains” of the computer.
The CPU is Also Known As: processor, computer processor, microprocessor, central processor, “the brains of the computer”
Important CPU Facts: Not all central processing units have pins on their bottoms sides, but in the ones that do, the pins are easily bent. Take great care when handling, especially when installing onto the motherboard.
Each motherboard supports only a certain range of CPU types so always check with your motherboard manufacturer before making a purchase.
Popular CPU Manufacturers: Intel, AMD
CPU Description: A modern CPU is usually small and square with many short, rounded, metallic connections on its underside. Some older CPUs have pins instead metallic connectors.
The CPU attaches directly to a CPU “socket” (or sometimes a “slot”) on the motherboard. The CPU is inserted into the socket pin-side-down and a small lever helps to secure the processor.
After running even a short while, modern CPUs can get very hot. To help dissipate this heat, it is necessary to attach a heat sink and a fan directly on top of the CPU. Typically, these come bundled with a CPU purchase.
Other more advanced cooling options are also available including water cooling kits and phase change units.
Small Computer System Interface (SCSI)
Definition: Abbreviated SCSI, it is a type of connection for storage and other devices in a PC. Generally, it refers to the types of cables and ports used to connect certain types of hard drives, optical drives, scanners, and other devise to a computer.
SCSI interfaces can be used internally to connect these types of hardware devices directly to a motherboard or storage controller card. External connections are also common for SCSI and typically connect via an external port on a storage controller card.
The SCSI standard is not very common among consumer hardware devices. The IDE standard (PATA and SATA) is by far the leading storage interface standard in PCs today.
The USB and FireWire standards are much more popular than SCSI for connecting external devise to computers.
Thunderbolt is a potential replacement for SCSI.
Also Known As: SCSI
Examples: “I used to have an external scanner that used the SCSI interface. My new computer didn’t have an ISA port so I had to purchase a new PSI SCSI interface.”
FireWire (IEEE 1394)
Definition: IEEE 1394 is a standard type of connection for many different kinds of devices. Generally, it refers to the types of cables, ports and connectors used to connect these many types of external devices to computers. IEEE 1394 is commonly called FireWire, the Apple Inc. brand name for the standard.
The IEEE 1394 standard is a popular one for hardware requiring high data transfer rates. FireWire ports and cables are used to connect devices such as digital video cameras, some printers, scanners, external hard drives and more to a computer.
Thunderbolt is a potential replacement for FireWire.
Also Known As: i.Link (Sony branded)
Examples: “My new digital video camera connects to my Pc via a FireWire connection. It didn’t come with a FireWire cable so I had to pick one up at the electronics store.”
Universal Serial Bus (USB)
Definition: Abbreviated USB, it is a standard type of connection for many different kinds for devices. Generally, it refers to the types of cables, ports and connections used to connect these many types of external devices to computers.
The Universal Serial Bus standard is a popular one. USB ports and cables are used to connect devices such as printers, scanners, flash drives, external hard drives and more to a computer. In fact USB has become so popular; it’s even used in nontraditional computer-like devices such as video game consoles, wireless phones and more.
Thunderbolt is a potential replacement for USB.
Also Known As: USB
Examples: “You can tell how popular USB devices have become based on how many USB ports computer manufacturers include on new PCs. My latest PC had 8 USB ports as the standard option!”
What is a video Card?: The video card is an expansion card that allows the computer to send graphical information for a video display device such as a monitor or projector.
The Video Card is Also Known As: graphics card, graphics adapter, video adapter
Important Video Card Facts: Each motherboard supports only a limited range of video card formats so always check with your motherboard manufacturer before making a purchase.
Many modern computers do not have video expansion cards but instead have GPUs integrated directly onto the motherboard. This allows for a less expensive computer but also for a less powerful graphics system. This option is wise for the average business and home user not interested in advanced graphics capabilities or the latest games.
Popular Video Card Manufacturers: NVIDIA Corporation, AMD, Matrox
Note: these companies actually manufacture the processors, called graphics processing units (GPUs) that operate the video card. Many other companies utilize these processers in their particular brands of video cards.
Video Card Description: A video card is a rectangular in shape with numerous contacts on the bottom of the card and one or more ports on the side for connection to video displays and other devices.
The video card installs in an expansion slot on the motherboard. While most video cards are of the PCIe format, video cards come in other formats as well, including PCI and AGP. These additional formats are older standards and don’t communicate with the CPU and other components as quickly as PCIe.
Since the motherboard, case, and expansion cards are designed with compatibility in mind, the side of the video cards fits just outside the back of the case when installed, making its ports available for use.
Some video cards have only one port for connection to a standard monitor or projector while more advanced cards many have ports for connections to multiple output sources including additional monitors and televisions. Still other cards may have inputs for video editing and other advanced tasks.
Definition: Thunderbolt is a standard type of connection that might be used by any number of different kinds of devices. Generally, it refers to the types of cables ports, and connections used to connect Thunderbolt devices to computers.
Thunderbolt is considered a potential replacement for USB, FireWire, PCIe, SCSI, SATA, and other forms of data transfer methods. Considering the potential applications of Thunderbolt, it could eventually reduce the types of connections available in computer devices.
Thunderbolt supports a data rate of 10 Gbit/s in both directions.
The first computer device that utilized Thunderbolt was a MacBook Pro, released by Apple in early 2011.
Also Known As: Light Peak
Examples: “My new 5 TB external hard drive I just bought was designed to work with Thunderbolt, which was great because I plan to transfer a lot of very large HD movies to it.”
Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP)
Definition: Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) is a standard type of connection for internal video cards. Generally, it refers to the actual expansion slow on the motherboard that accepts AGP video cards and to the types of video cards themselves.
There are three common AGP interfaces: 3.3 V (AGP 1.0 – 1X and 2X), 1.5 V (AGP 2.0 – 4X), and 0.8 V (AGP 3.0 – 8X). Check your motherboard or computer manual before you purchase and install a new AGP card. Installing an AGP video card that is not supported by your motherboard will not work and may damage your PC.
Note: PCIe (PCIe Express) has replaced AGP as the standard video card interface. AGP previously replaced the use of PCI interfaces for video.
Also Known As: AGP
Examples: “I used to use the onboard video on my motherboard but I recently installed a standalone video card in the AGP port.”
PCI Express (PCIe)
Definition: PCI Express (PCIe) is a standard type of connection for internal devices, primarily video cards. Generally, it refers to the actual expansion slow on the motherboard that accepts PCIe expansion cards and to the types of expansion cards themselves.
Note: PCI Express is considered the standard video card interface. As a PC video interface PCI Express has replaced AGP, which replaced PCI, which replaced ISA.
Thunderbolt is a potential replacement for PCI Express.
Also Known As: Peripheral Component Interconnect Express, PCIe, PCI-E
Examples: “My new PCIe card has two video ports, allowing me to utilize two monitors at the same time!”
What is a Sound Card: The sound card is an expansion card that allows the computer to send audio information to an audio device like speakers or a pair of headphones.
The Sound Card is Also Known As: audio card, audio adapter, sound adapter
Important Sound Card Facts: Many modern computers do not have sound expansion cards but instead have the same technology integrated directly onto the motherboard. This allows for a less expensive computer and only slightly less powerful audio system. This option is wise for nearly every computer user, even the music fan. Dedicated sound cards are usually only necessary for the serious audio professional.
Popular Sound Card Manufacturers: Creative (SoundBlaster), Turtle Beach, Diamond Multimedia
Sound Card Description: A sound card is rectangular in shape with numerous contacts on the bottom of the card and multiple ports on the side for connection to audio devise such as speakers.
The sound card installs in a PCI slot on the motherboard.
Since the motherboard, case and peripheral cards are designed with compatibility in mind, the side of the sound card fits just outside the back of the case when installed, making its ports available for use. Most sound cards have ports for a joystick, speaker, microphone and an auxiliary device. Still other cards may have inputs and outputs designed for more advanced tasks such as audio editing and professional audio output.
Definition: A DIP switch is a vary small switch or group of switches that are attached to many older sound cards, motherboards, and other computer and electronic devices.
DIP switches were very common on older ISA expansion cards and were often used to select the IRQ and to configure the other system resources for the card.
Also Known As: Dual In-Line Package Switch
Examples: “The old ISA sound card I used to have in my computer has a DIP switch that used to configure the IRQ that the card was to use.”
Definition: A jumper is removable wire or small plastic or metal plug whose absence or placement on a piece of hardware determines how the hardware is to be configured.
For example, if a jumper on a hard drive is in “Position A” (I made this up), it may mean that the hard drive is to be the master hard drive on the system. If the jumper is in “Position B” it may mean that the hard drive is to be the slave hard drive in the computer.
Jumpers have all but replaced an older hardware configuration mechanism called a DIP switch. Even jumpers are rare on most newer hardware today.
Examples: “The second hard drive I put it my computer didn’t work but then I realized that I have set the jumper setting incorrectly.”
Hardware (Computer Hardware)
Definition: Hardware, in the computer world, refers to the physical components that make up a computer system.
There are many different kinds of hardware that can be installed inside, and connected to the outside, of a computer.
Take a tour inside your PC to learn how all the hardware in your computer connects together to create the complete computer system you use every day.
Here is some common hardware that you might find connected to the outside of a computer:
· Battery Backup (UPS)
Here is some less common computer hardware, either because these pieces are now usually integrated into other devise or because they’ve been replaced with newer technology:
· Sound Card
· Network Interface Card (NIC)
· Expansion Card (Firewire, USB, Thunderbolt, etc.)
· Hard Drive Controller Card
· Analog Modem
· Floppy Disk Drive
· Tape Drive
· Zip Drive
The following hardware is referred to as network hardware and various pieces are often part of a home or business network:
· Digital Modem (e.g. Cable Modem, DSL Modem, etc.)
· Network Switch
· Access Point
· Print Server
Network hardware isn’t as clearly defined as some other types of computer hardware. For example, many home routers will often act as a combination router, switch, and firewall.
In addition to all the items listed above, there’s more computer hardware that I like to call auxiliary hardware, of which a computer might have none, or several, of some kinds:
· Fan (CPU, GPU, Case, etc.)
· Heat Sink
· Data Cable
· Power Cable
· CMOS battery
In Microsoft Windows, hardware resources are managed by Device Manager.
Examples: “I’m a huge fan of 3D video games so I regularly update my video card hardware to support the requirements of these kinds of games.”
Definition: Abbreviated as OS, it is a powerful, and usually large, program that controls and manages the hardware and other software on a computer.
The most popular operating systems today include versions of Microsoft Windows (like Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP), Apple’s Mac OS, and flavors of the open source operating system Linux.
Also Known As: OS
Examples: “I have a number of friends that use different versions of the Linux operating system but I’ve always been a huge fan of Microsoft Windows. In fact, my last upgrade was from Microsoft Windows Vista to Microsoft Windows 7.”