How do computers work?

Computers perform tasks as a result of a combination of hardware, software, input and output. The CPU, or central processing unit, is where most of the heavy lifting takes place. While the technical aspects of what makes computers work can be difficult for a non-professional to understand, the mechanical aspects can give you a clear idea of ​​what and how things happen internally.

A computer motherboard.

Computers work thanks to a series of closely interconnected hardware devices. When looking at a computer from the outside, the basic parts are the system case, which can be a tower for a desktop machine or the body of a laptop; the monitor; and the keyboard. A mouse or trackpad may or may not be essential for a computer to function, depending on the type and model. Many computers also have a CD or other disk drive in their case.

Installing additional RAM can help speed up your computer.

Most of the essential things that make computers work are inside the case, away from your eyes. The motherboard is the central point of the computer, where all the various components connect and communicate with each other. The key to enabling a computer to function is the central processing unit (CPU), the central stop for all the processes the computer goes through. As a command is sent, such as “open a program” or “turn on the monitor”, the CPU interprets this order and acts accordingly.

A computer’s power supply is important to ensure it gets the electricity it needs to run.

Once the computer is turned on or started, the CPU starts to activate certain sections so that it can give access to programs and processes. Computers operate on a CPU basis, allowing users access, so if the boot process does not work properly, it could mean that the computer cannot be used even if everything else inside it is working correctly.

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A graphics card is what allows graphics to be displayed on a computer.

Memory is also extremely important in enabling a computer to function. The two main types of memory are random access memory (RAM) and read-only memory (ROM). ROM is stored data and cannot be written to; RAM is memory that can be read and written, allowing new data to be saved. In many cases, additional RAM can be added.

A flash drive, a type of computer drive used to store data.

One type of ROM is the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS), which is responsible for the communication between the software on a computer and the hardware. When a computer is first turned on, the BIOS checks for basic data such as hard memory, RAM, any installed cards, and other devices. The BIOS also checks for boot errors and offers to fix them if necessary.

A dual core CPU mounted on a motherboard.

Other less central — but no less vital — parts that let computers work include the power supply, transformer, and battery. These parts make sure each component gets the electricity it needs in the proper amount, and that key information is saved even when the power is off. The computer drives, including hard drives, flash drives, and any drives with removable media, such as CD-ROM drives, allow the user to upload new data and applications to the computer and save files. The cooling system helps keep all of the components from overheating.

The computer mouse.

Most computers also have other components without which a computer would be more difficult to use. Graphics cards allow the computer to display graphics on the monitor, and come in many different levels. Sounds cards allow the computer to play sounds. Connecting to the Internet or other computers requires a modem. Most computers come with all of these components, and often it is possible for the owner to upgrade each to newer or more advanced versions.

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A screenshot of the BIOS configuration screen.

Input/output (I/O) is the name given to the processes or components needed to interact with the CPU and make computers work. These include the monitor and keyboard, but also CD-ROMs and removable flash memory cards. Input/output processes allow you to order the computer to do something, making the essential for interaction and use.

The laptop.

A desktop PC.

CD-ROM drives allow users to upload new data to the computer.

A cooling pad may help keep the laptop from overheating during certain tasks, like playing video games.

Computer monitors display the programs being used.

A computer’s hard drive stores much of its data.

Various computer drives allow users to save information or files.

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