We all use them on a daily basis without really knowing what is inside our computer. This guide is design to give you a very basic look at what is inside that thing you spend a lot of your life on and what the parts do.
If you took the side off your computer this is what you would likely see (minus the dust). The inside of a computer varies from computer to computer but they all contain the basics which we will now go through.
What is a Motherboard?
This is the main PCB (Printed Circuit Board) that controls all the other hardware on your computer and brings them all together and also provides connectors for other things you may want to connect. It is also sometimes referred to as the system board or mobo.
The motherboard contains things like the processor socket, Memory slots (DIMMS), PCI Slots, Sata connectors. Click the image for a larger picture.
What is a Processor? (Central processing Unit)
The processor is considered the brains of the computer as it interprets and executes the commands of most of the computers hardware and software. The popular processors you will have heard of are Intel and AMD. The processors are connected to the motherboard via the motherboard CPU socket. A computer processor tends to get very hot (can be upwards of 70 degrees Celsius) and for this reason there is normally a heat sink and fan attached to the processor to cool it (see below). Sometimes in advanced machines water cooling is used.
What is a heatsink?
A heat-sink is something that cools a device by taking heat away from it in this case a processor. You can get a heat-sink without a fan called a passive heat-sink but most modern processors require a fan to be attached to the heat-sink.
What is memory or RAM?
Memory stores data to be processed by the CPU that usually comes from the hard drive. Having more memory increases the performance of a computer as it can do more at once. The limit for a 32bit operating system is 3.19GB of RAM. If you wish to use over this you have to use a 64bit operating system. RAM is volatile memory which means once power is turned off the memory is cleared.
what is a hard drive?
A hard drive is where all your data is stored from your pictures and documents to the operating system and your programs. Unlike RAM it is non volatile memory which means when the power is turned off your data remains. Hard drives vary in size from about 40GB to over 2TB (consumer products). If you wish to see how a hard drive works have a look at our video here. Most hard drives tend to have Sata connections nowadays but some of the older hard drives had an IDE cable. (see below)
What are IDE Cables and SATA cables?
Sata is a much faster connection than the old IDE types and is found in most modern computers and laptops. A lot of the modern motherboards no longer support IDE but you can buy adapters.
What is a PSU (Power supply Unit)?
The power supply is what gives your computer its juice. It is very important that the power supply is matched to the requirements of the hardware that is installed. For example a custom built gaming machine would most likely not work correctly or at all with a power supply under 500 Watts. It is also important that the power supply has the right connectors and enough of them to power everything you want it to (sata power cables, molex power cables)
What is a Graphics card? (GPU, Video card, Video adapter)
This is an expansion card that provides images to your display. Most motherboards do provide some form of adapter but especially for gaming or video editing it is common to have a more powerful expansion card installed. Depending on the power of these graphics card they may come with their own heat-sink and fans. (The one above has a passive heat-sink).
Most modern graphics cards come with VGA or DVI Slots. Some more advanced cards do feature HDMI slots for High Definition displays.
What is a DVD/CD Drive or burner?
This is an optical drive that is usually connected via a SATA connection the same as your hard drive. Most drives allow you to read DVDS and it is very common nowadays to be able to burn DVDS with the same device.