How the Computer Works

How the Computer Works

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Many people assume that computer are difficult to understand and difficult to use; however, the first step is understanding and learning to use the computer. The types of hardware that all computer systems use and the types of software that make them run. Like millions of computer users, microcomputers where used to play games, explore the Internet, write papers, build spreadsheets, or create a professional-looking proposal or flyer. You can perform all these application without understanding exactly what goes on behind your computer case or monitor screen.

We the computer user, turn on the machine, load software program, and use that software to accomplish a task without knowing what goes on behind the scenes or the basic functions of the computer components. It is also important to know how to protect the computer.

The complete computer system consists of four parts; hardware, software, people, and data. The term hardware refers to the physical components of the computer, such as the monitor, keyboard, memory chips, and hard drive. The term software refers to the set of instructions that directs the hardware to accomplish a task. People are the customer operators, known as users. Data consists of raw facts, which the computer stores and reads in from of numbers.

In order to perform a computing task, hardware is used by software for four basic functions: input, processing, output and storage. The computer user interacts with a computer in a language that the user understands, but software must convert that instruction into a form that hardware can understand. Hardware stores data and communicates with software by only one fundamental method--binary--and, in effect, speaks a language that only has two words, "on" and "off." All communication, storage, and processing of data inside a computer are in binary until presented as output to the user. The binary number system, is the language of the computer.

The central, most important hardware device in a computer is the central processing unit (CPU) or microprocessor. Date received by input devices goes to the CPU, and output travels form the CPU to output devices. The CPU stores data and instructions in storage devices and performs calculations and other processing of data as well. A method for the CPU to communicate with the device will need to send data to and/or receive data from the CPU.

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The CPU will control the device by passing instructions to it, and/or request service from the CPU. Software to instruct and control the device, without it the device is useless. The software must know how to communicate with the device and the CPU must have access to this software in order to interact with the device.

Hardware devices communicate with what is inside the computer through cables attached to it, called a port, sending data and/or instructions to the computer and receiving them from the computer. Output devices, such as a monitor and a printer, return processed data back to the user.

The keyboard is the primary input device of a computer. It accepts letter, numbers, and commands from the user. The keyboards that are standard today are called enhanced keyboards and hold 102 keys. A mouse is a pointing device used to move a pointer on the screen and select options from on-screen menus. The bottom of a mouse houses a rotating ball that is used to track movement and control the location of the pointer. The buttons on the top of the mouse serve different purposes. The left mouse button is used to executer a command and the right mouse button to display information about the command. Most software applications that support a mouse use the four basic mouse techniques: point, moves the mouse to point to selections on the screen; click, press and release the left mouse button; double-click, press and release the left mouse button twice (quickly); and click & drag, press and hold the left mouse button, then move the mouse, then release the button when finished dragging the selection.

The monitor and the printer are the two most popular output devices. The monitor is the visual device that displays the primary output of the computer. A very important output device is the printer, which produces output on paper, often called hard copy. The most popular printers available today are ink-jet, laser, and dot matrix printers.

Software consists of programs written by programmers that instruct. There are two basic categories of software; operating software and application software. The operating software performs task at startup that determine the overall health and function of the computer. After startup, the OS, working with applications software, is responsible for providing instructions to the hardware to perform tasks. The OS is in control of getting the computer ready for user interaction when the computer is first turned on. Once the computer is ready, the user can interact directly with the OS to perform simple tasks such as copying files from the hard drive to disk or installing applications software.

The inside of the computer is a world of electronic and mechanical devices. The computer has become one of the most powerful technical tools of our society.

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