What is a computer?

A computer is an amalgamation of physical equipment, with each component performing a designated task. This is what we call the hardware. Monitors, Keyboards, your mouse, printers, etc. are all hardware and are further classified as peripheral (on the outside).

Inside that box which your peripherals (above) plug into, usually called the computer or “hard drive” there is another set of components however in this case they are all internally joined together and are protected inside a case.

The case, which can be a large box like a desktop computer, smaller like a laptop and even smaller as a tablet (and even cell phones). In all cases there are particular individual components which make up the basics of “the computer”.

The computer:

Motherboard/CPU: This is the heart of the computer itself. Everything runs through the motherboard and CPU.

Memory: Memory helps the motherboard/CPU – it stores information temporarily, feeds it to the CPU then will store the output for display (on screen, printer, etc.)

Hard Drive: ¬†Anything that you want saved for use later – after shutting down/restarting computer – is stored on a hard drive. Hard drives, although smaller and larger capacity are based on the same magnetic/spinning disk as the original floppy drives of decades ago. ¬†Newer “solid state” had drives (SD cards for your camera) have no moving parts but can be much more expensive.

DVD/CD/Blu-Ray drive: Technically a peripheral as they plug into the motherboard and some are connected via USB, usually they are held within the computer case.

The physical equipment that makes up a computer is all controlled, operated and acted upon by the software.


BIOS: This is the short lived screen you see when you boot up the computer. It is software stored on chips within the motherboard itself – permanent in nature. It controls the basics of the motherboard and the internal components of the computer. Hard drives, Motherboard, memory, CD/DVD drives are all initially controlled through the BIOS of the computer.

Operating system: The operating system is main software which controls all aspects of the computer – it is what loads at “boot up”. Microsoft (Windows), Apple (Os), Linux are all examples of operating systems. The operating system enhances and completes the limited functionality of the BIOS and defines what type of programs your computer runs. System specifications on all purchased programs list the operating systems it runs on.

Drivers: Drivers are small software packages that tell the operating system how to talk to a very specific piece of hardware (usually peripheral). Different printers with different functionalities require different drivers unique unto themselves. Video drivers specific to a unique video card allows for greater functionality of the generic default drivers usually included with an operating system.

Programs: These are the things you install, on purpose or by accident. From games to desktop publishing programs are usually created for a specific operating system however are separate from the operating system. Microsoft Word is a word-processing program that runs on Microsoft Windows operating system. You can also buy Microsoft word that runs on the Apple operating system.

So where does the Internet fit in?

For simplicity, the Internet is a peripheral piece of hardware run by a program. The hardware is the network adapter (where the network cable plugs into the computer) and the program is your web browser, email software, online game, etc.)

There is another piece of hardware called a modem or router which takes the Internet signal from a phone line/cable connection and converts it so your computer can communicate – then will take information from your computer, convert it and send it out on the Internet. It just translates and passes data/information.

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