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Parts of a computer

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You may find this useful when purchasing or upgrading a PC (personal computer). Here is some information about each of the components. If you need more information, contact us by e-mail. We will try to add more information and images with time.

Form factor, Case

  • Desktop is standard size
  • Tower is good for later upgrades and for cooling of power PCs (e.g. for gamers)
  • Small footprint is good if you don't have a lot of desk space
  • Laptop is portable but less powerful and more expensive. Don't forget to check the battery life. If you need a power laptop, look for desktop replacements.
  • Tablet and netbook are less powerful than standard PC's, but good for casual, portable use
  • Rack mount is for servers in air conditioned computer rooms

Operating System

The most popular operating system is Windows. Windows 7 is great. Windows 8 includes a new tablet friendly interface which has cause a lot of controversy. Any older version of Windows, e.g. XP, Vista, etc - should not be considered unless absolutely necessary.

If you wish to upgrade Windows, make sure you check the minimum requirements regarding memory and disk space, and that your other components are compatible.

Linux is an alternative operating system to Windows, but there are lots of versions available, and it's not that easy to choose the best (we recommend Ubuntu, but not as a result of rigorous testing!) Linux does not natively run Microsoft Office - the de facto standard word processing and spreadsheet application, but there are alternatives including Google Docs, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, etc.

Motherboard

The motherboard is the central nervous system of computer system and is what the components including the processor (brain) connect to for power, instructions, data communications, etc.

AMD is lower cost than Intel, but Intel appears to perform better generally but there are probably exceptions.

With Intel try i3, i5 and i7 indicates increasing performance (and price). Try for i5 or better.

Processesor 

  • Number of cores: Dual (2) core is fine for most purposes. Quad (4) core or more would give you a much faster PC. Each application can use one or more processors, so - the number of cores could be very important if you're a power user (e.g. developer).
  • Clock speed: This is usually not that important but indicates how fast the processor works. It's measured in GHz (gigahertz). More is better. Netbooks tends to have a slower speed.
  • Overclocked? If a process is overclocked (configured to work faster than it should), it is likely to have a greatly reduced lifespan unless it is also cooled in some special way. Only enthusiasts who are happy to change their processor when needed, should consider a PC with an overclocked processor.

Memory, RAM (Random Access Memory)

The more RAM, the faster the PC (generally). 1GB (one gigabyte) should be considered a minimum for a standard PC user. Less may be OK for a tablet / netbook. 4GB or more for a power user. 

Memory should not be confused with storage / disk space. Memory is must faster that disk. Applications for loaded from disk into memory to make them work faster. Because memory is faster, it's more expensive.

Memory can be upgraded, however, the rules for this would be for a separate article.

Graphics Card, Graphics Adapter, Display

The graphics adapter sends the images / video to the display screen. For basic use, a VGA connector should be all you need to consider, since VGA is the standard for monitors. For higher end users, e.g. gamers - you should look for an PC with more graphics memory.

  • Manufacturer: There are various manufacturers including Intel (usually on-board), ATI, AMD, NVIDIA, etc.
  • Connector: 
    • VGA is a standard connector
    • HDMI connects to HD (high definition) TVs. HMDI is not always provided so, if you want to hook up to your TV, look carefully for the HDMI port.
  • Memory: The more memory the graphics card has, the better.
  • Cooling: The higher end graphics card tend to have more spectacular looking cooling. Heat sink, fan, etc.
  • Display: A larger screen gives increases productivity but is more expensive. A quicker response time is required for gaming.

Storage, Hard Disk Drive (HDD), Solid State Drive (SDD)

Your applications and data are stored on the hard disk drive or solid state drive SDD. The size is measured in GB (gigabytes). The more the better, however, large hard disk drives tend to increase the price of the PC. 64GB should be considered a bare minimum. 1TB is good for storing lots of photos and videos. 

Solid state drives (SSD) will make your PC run much faster than a hard disk drives (HDD), but SSDs are more expensive and smaller. 

If you don't have enough storage space, you can usually increase it with an external hard drive or large USB memory stick.

See also: Memory, RAM above.

Optical drives: CD, DVD, BluRay

If you are likely to need to play DVD's, BluRay disks, you will need to ensure the PC includes this type of drive. You may also consider writing disks aswell, so look for RW (read / write).

Network

To connect your PC to your home network / the Internet, you are likely to need a Wifi network adapter (wireless) or ethernet (wired) network adapter. Ethernet is usually faster and more reliable, especially for streamed videos, however, you would need to connect the PC to your router in the same room, unless you wish to wire up your house with a network. That can be expensive.

More to follow ref: Wireless G, Wireless N, etc.

Consider bluetooth if you wish to use a wireless headset, wireless keyboard + mouse, or connect your phone.

Keyboard / Mouse

A keyboard and mouse is not always supplied with a PC, and is hardly every supplied with a laptop sice they're build in (touchpad rather than mouse). When purchasing a keyboard and mouse, consider whether you want wired or wireless. If you choose wireless, go for one which states it will have a long battery life, otherwise, you'll be changing batteries very regularly.

USB Ports

A USB port is the standard way of connecting devices such as keyboards, mice, external hard disk drives, phones, etc - to your PC. Some laptops only have around 3 ports, and this is just about enough (keyboard, mouse, phone). But you may find yourself wanting more. Either choose a PC with more ports, or consider a USB Hub. Low cost USB hubs can be very unreliable. Try to get a powered USB hub.

Sound, Speakers

Although most PCs are supplied with a sound card and ports (e.g. a speaker and headphone socket), some are not supplied with speakers and you will need to purchase these separately.

Accessories, Peripherals

Other things to consider are: External hard disk, printer, webcam, etc.



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