Under The Hood – The 10 “Moving” Parts of a Computer

Despite what anyone tells you, troubleshooting a desktop computer is usually a very straightforward thing.

There are just 10 “moving” parts to a standard desktop or tower PC. A laptop has exactly the same parts (if you exclude the “built-in” screen, keyboard and glidepad)only miniaturized and squeezed into a much smaller case.

The Ten Parts

1. Motherboard, system or mainboard. This is a big circuit board with various “slots” and “sockets” that holds the rest of the parts.

2. CPU or “central processor unit” is the main “chip” inside. It’s the brain of the computer.

3. RAM or “Random Access Memory” comes in “sticks”. RAM acts data holding tanks for the CPU. The more RAM the a computer has; the faster it can operate. Is a view of the RAM installed in a computer.

Expansion Cards is any type of computer circuit card that inserted into the motherboard. This may include Video or Graphic, Sound, Network or Modem.

4. Audio or Sound card. Most modern units have an “onboard” system (see motherboard picture above) that is built into the motherboard. However, replacement and upgrade cards are available.

5. Video or Graphic card. Like sound cards, most computers have “onboard” systems that are built-in. But replacement and upgrade cards are available for special functions like high power video games or digitally record your favorite TV shows like a Tivo.

6. Modem cards (not to be confused with cable modems) are still used for dial-up Internet connections but are slowly being replaced with faster DSL and broadband connections.

7. Network cards are for all Ethernet(wired networks) or broadband and DSL Internet connections (either high-speed cable or phone lines). These cards are part of any wired network.

8. The Hard Drive is the central storage unit for computer. It holds operating systems, motherboard/card software (drivers), applications and other programs. Here is an image of a hard drive in a computer case.

9. CD/DVD Drives have become the primary “removable” storage devices replacing the venerable floppy drive.

10. Floppy Drives, while being phased out, have been the standard since the beginning of personal computers. Many models still use them as the secondary boot device.

Here is an image of floppy drives down thru history

    From left to right:

  • Qume D/T 8, 8 inch drive, 1.2 MB. Made in 1980.
  • Tandon TM 100-2A , 5 1/4 inch drive, 360 KB. Made in 1983.
  • Sony MPF920, 3 1/2 inch drive, 1.4 MB. Made in 2004.

11. Case and Power Supply Unit. So, I said ten, but from my point of view, a good power supply unit or PSU and case are some of the most important components in a computer.

A failing power supply unit the computer simply will not boot or run improperly damaging other devices. Your motherboard or CPU may burn out sooner than expected or suffer power fluctuations.

  • a. You can see the Power Supply Unit at the back of the case: it’s the “fan” where the main power cord outlet is set. The PSU has two main jobs: provide juice to all the components inside the case and use its’ fan to keep things cool.
  • b. The “Case” is usually the “white box” or “black box” or “grey box” everything sets in. Some cases are simple to open. Still others are like trying to untie a Gordian knot. And laptops should only be opened with instructions from repair professionals.
  • c. Cables are the most often “forgotten” part in a PC. The multi-color power cables connect the power supply unit to the motherboard and other devices. And while the flat grey data cables run from the motherboard to the floppy, CD/DVD, hard drives

See, I told you, just ten simple, little parts. Well maybe a bit more than ten but most of which you already knew about or have used.

By understanding the basic functions of those parts and applying a little common sense with a wee bit of how-to knowledge, you can effectively uncover and fix most of the problems that are plaguing your PC.

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