Understanding the anatomy of a PC is no easy task, even if you've used one every day for years. You may have heard the terms "motherboard" or "central processing unit," but asking most people to define these very essential components is likely to draw blank stares.
The two main types of computers are portable and desktop. Portable computers come in various shapes and sizes, and include laptops and hand-held devices. Desktops are stationary, typically with a more powerful configuration. Several components are essential to both. Hands down, the most powerful component of a computer is the central processing unit (CPU). Other basic and necessary components include memory, the motherboard, the hard drive and the power supply.
Central processing unit
The CPU handles all of the computation work and is distinguished by its speed. The higher the speed, the faster the PC. If you're watching high-definition movies or manipulating graphics, then you'll need a computer with fast processing.
Random access memory (RAM)
Your computer can't function without memory. RAM is the hardware inside the computer that stores information. Get a minimum of 512 megabytes -- memory is even more important than the speed of the processor. The more RAM a computer has, the more smoothly the PC will run when using several programs at once. While adding more memory later isn't time consuming, getting what you need when you purchase the computer is worthwhile and may be more cost effective.
The motherboard provides the connections within the computer and hosts the RAM, microprocessor and drive controllers. The microprocessor is the brain of the computer and controls the operations, while the drive controllers enable the computer's hard drive to work. The motherboard should have at least two USB ports to plug in a digital audio player or additional memory drive.
All data created on the computer, whether it's homework, business files or personal data, are stored on the hard drive. It has a much larger capacity than the RAM.
The last of the mandatory computer components is the power supply. While it may be the simplest, it's absolutely essential for allowing the computer to work. Enough said.
With the Internet being the center of the world for many of us, access to it could actually move to the essential list. Most PCs have a modem for dial-up Internet access and an Ethernet port for broadband access. For a wireless connection, you'll need a wireless network adapter, also standard on most computers.
A CD or DVD drive (also known as an optical drive) is the readable and/or writable drive that allows users to read from and write to a CD or DVD. Most PCs have an optical drive that can read CDs and DVDs, and for not much more money, you can get a drive that writes, too.
Determine whether additional items such as sound cards, graphic cards, video cards or speakers fit your needs. If you want to run games or multimedia programs faster, then many of these options can prove beneficial. Integrated sound is already adequate on most computers, but upgrading to surround sound is a desirable option.
Keyboard, mouse and monitor
The keyboard allows users to enter commands, and the mouse is an interface with the same function. The monitor, serving as a desktop computer screen, comes in various sizes. A small monitor is typically around 17 inches, while greater than 20 inches is considered large. The higher the resolution on the monitor, the better the graphics card you'll need to run games or video-intense applications. If you're undecided, you can't go wrong with a 22-inch digital monitor.
Operating system and software
After you've made all the hardware decisions, determine what pre-installed software you'll need for your computer. Select the latest version of an operating system such as Microsoft Windows, the best-selling operating system for years. Also purchase an anti-virus program such as Norton or Trend Micro, and choose from other programs such as word processing and spreadsheets.
So much for thinking you couldn't understand a PC from A to Z! This ultra-complex machine deserves our thanks. After all, functioning without a computer these days would be like living in the dark.