How Your Computer Works - the basics

First, your computer system is made up of the following equipment: Computer, Monitor, Keyboard, Mouse, Printer, and Surge Protector.

Inside the computer box, there is a power supply, motherboard, floppy drive, hard drive, CD ROM Drive, modem, sound card, and display card.

The motherboard is the main system board, which has the following among other things: Processor Chip, Memory, BIOS, CMOS, Battery, Expansion Slots, Chipset, and connectors. The motherboard may also have the display circuit and sound card integrated into it as well as the hard and floppy controllers and serial, parallel, and USB ports.Motherboards that have the display and sound integrated into them are called "all in one" motherboards. The advantage is lower cost and the disadvantage is if one of the integrated components fails (and they do), the whole motherboard may have to be replaced.

The processor chip is the main device that does the processing, according to instructions that it receives from the BIOS, operating system, and programs. The CMOS is special memory that stores the contiguration of your computer and the battery keeps the configuration alive in that memory. CHIPSETS are sets of thousands of very small integrated circuits built into one or two larger chips that contain most of the motherboards circuits. Expansion slots are slots to install add in cards for a feature that is not on the motherboard, such as a modem, network interface, sound card, display card, or other special card.

When the computer is turned on, the BIOS supplies the first instructions that test and turn on the various components on the motherboard. The first messages that appear on the monitors screen come from the display card's BIOS and then from the system BIOS. The BIOS then directs to find an operating system which can be on a floppy disk, hard disk, or CD ROM disk. The operating system is software that that tells the processor what to do next. In the case of Windows, it loads hundreds of megabytes of the operating system (Windows) from the hard drive into system memory. This process is called booting the computer. Windows is made up of thousands of files that instruct the processor how to operate with that particular computer. Integrated into the operating system are almost a hundred "drivers" that are loaded specifically to match your hardware. These drivers make the various components on the motherboard work with Windows.Different motherboards from different manufacturers and models use different drivers. Drivers that you specifically become aware of are for the display, modem, sound, and network circuitry, as well as printers and other devices you add to the computer. There are utilities and small programs also built into Windows that include capability to maintain Windows as well as use it with limited functionality such as Notepad or Wordpad and Internet Explorer. Windows also has an extensive database called the registry. The registry tells Windows how to operate, what to load, and in what order. During the Boot process, the operating system gets a chance to load drivers, utilities, and programs from configuration files and a "Start Up Group".

Once the operating system has loaded, you either need to load programs into the hard drive or use programs already on the hard drive.Loading a program for the first time requires inserting a floppy or CD disk into the drive and followinging the instructions to proceed with the loading. Windows copies that program which usually includes hundreds of pieces of that program into a specific directory on the hard drive and also into the Windows directory as well. The Windows database or registry is also updated to include details of the new program, where the files are located, and how the use them. Programs become very integrated into Windows. They are not just copied to the hard drive.

The operating system displays a "DESKTOP" with icons on it. Early computers with DOS, required typing in instructions to bring up programs. Windows is a graphic operating system that allows you, the user, to point to the ICON on the monitors screen and click on it to bring up a program or utility. The mouse is used to move the pointer on the screen. Many operations can be carried out simply by moving the mouse and pointing and clicking. Data entry still requires keyboard entry, unless you are equipped with special scanning equipment and software to scan in documents and immediately have that software integrate the documents into the program.

Computers are used for surfing the Internet and EMAIL as well as creating documents, calculating with spreadsheets, maintaining a checkbook or accounting system, and processing pictures or graphics, either into a new document or to simply print. They are also used to keep simple or elaborate databases of people, items, companies, and inventory.

Document composed by Gene Mitchell, owner of Gene's Computer Outlet and instructor for Adult Night School copyright 2004