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Computer Hardware

Learning Goals

  • Understand the terms Hardware and Software
  • Identify and understand the basic components of a computer
  • Learn a bit about what's going on inside a computer
  • Lookup basic hardware information about your own computer

Hardware and Software

A computer has two general characteristics:
  • Hardware - the physical parts of a computer that you can see and touch.  Similar to the physical material of our brain.
  • Software - the code and programs that run on a computer. You cannot see them, but can observe their effects when they operate.  Similar to the thoughts and commands that flow through our brains.

Basic Parts of a Computer

Click the video below to learn about the basic hardware components of a computer:

What's Going on Inside

These videos demonstrate some key concepts about what goes on inside a computer:

Looking Under the Hood

You can easily learn a little about the details of the CPU and storage in your computer.  Here's how:

Windows XP 

  1. Click on Start
  2. Right-mouse-click on My Computer
  3. Click on Properties
The screen will show you the speed of your processor and how much RAM you have as highlighted on the picture below:

Windows Vista / Windows 7.0 

  1. Click on Start Icon
  2. Right-mouse-click on Computer
  3. Click on Properties
The screen with similar information is pictured below:

How Fast is Your Computer?

Want to compare CPU Speeds between computers?  Click here for a handy chart that shows how common CPUs compare in terms of processing speed.

Is your computer too slow.  Often the main culprit in slow computer speed (apart from virus related problems) is that the amount of RAM, or working memory is too small.  Adding RAM to your system is one of the most inexpensive ways to get additional years of productive use from your system. Wondering what your RAM upgrade possibilities are?  Use the on-line service from Crucial.com to scan your system and make recommendations.

Storage Information

You can see information about your current hard drive storage by using the following steps:
  1. Click Start
  2. Click on My Computer
  3. Right-mouse-click on Drive C:
  4. Click Properties
You should see the size of your storage space and how much is used in a window that looks something like the picture below:

USB Key or Thumb Drives

USB Keys are convenient portable storage devices that you can plug into your computer.  They work the same way as your hard drive, but simply hold less information.  When you plug in a USB drive, it appears as a new drive letter on your My Computer window.  For example, your hard drive is usually designated with the drive letter C:, when you add a USB drive, it appears as E: or F:.   When you unplug it, the drive letter disappears.