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How does a computer đŸ’» work?



The physical components from which a computer is constructed (electronic circuits and input/output devices) are known as "hardware". Most computers have four types of hardware component: CPU, input, output and memory/storage. The CPU (central processing unit) executes programs ("software") which tell the computer what to do.

Input and output devices allow the computer to communicate with the user and the outside world. There are several kinds of memory/ storage fast, expensive, short term memory (e.g. RAM) to hold intermediate results, and slower, cheaper, long-term memory /storage (e.g. magnetic disk and magnetic tape) to hold programs and data between jobs.

The command line is the shared ground between human and machine. When we type in an instruction, in code, and there are different languages that the computer understands, we get a reply. There is also a different way of communicating with the computer.

Instead of the command line one can use a graphical user interface (GUI), the point and click cascading window layers system. The noun "program" describes a single, complete and more-or-less self-contained list of instructions, often stored in a single file, whereas "code" and "software" are uncountable nouns describing some number of instructions which may constitute one or more programs or part thereof. Most programs, however, rely heavily on various kinds of operating system software for their execution. More on all this fascinating matter of fact and opinion in the next topics.


A computer system is made up of a number of different sub- component systems which together allow the system to perform calculations and complicated tasks. A computer system could run payrolls, control an engine in a car, fly an airplane or allow a user to play games and balance their cheque book.

Computer systems do vary in size, cost and power, depending upon the task that they are required to perform. In this course, we are primarily concerned about personal computer systems, suitable for small business or home use. The diagram below shows a typical personal computer system.


The group of parts that make up the computer system. Hardware can be seen and touched.


A large capacity storage area that offers access to store and retrieve information, very slow compare to RAM.


The base unit holds the computer's motherboard, on which the computer's memory storage area (commonly referred to as RAM) and CPU (Central Processing Unit) are located. RAM holds both programs and data, the larger the RAM size, the more complicated the programs that can be run, and the more data that cén be processed. RAM is measured in Megabytes (one MB = 1 million characters). Typical sizes for today's personal computer systems is 16MB.

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