What’s Inside Your Computer?

Component Terminology and Technology Explained

In spite of the wide array of technology we find ourselves surrounded with on a daily basis, much of the terminology used to describe it remains somewhat mysterious to us. Even when we think we know what a term means we find it can vary depending on whether you are talking about a PC, a laptop, a tablet or a Smartphone.

Operating System – OS

For almost a quarter century, outside of a few custom systems, if you said Operating System you almost exclusively meant Windows and vice versa. However things have changed rapidly over the last number of years and the market is divided between a number of different OS’s.
Buyers need to be particularly careful to check what OS a computer comes with as some OS’s that are not compatible with certain software or may not be capable of doing what the buyer needs them for. It is also important when buying multiple devices for an office that compatibility across a network is kept in mind considered.
Windows continues to be the primary operating system for most ordinary office work and word processing. There are a number of mobile versions that run on tablets and smartphones but all are typically compatible
OSX is the operating system that runs on Apple’s desktop and laptop Mac devices. iOS is the variant designed to run on portable Apple devices such as the iPhone and the iPad.
Android is the name of Google’s main operating system that is most likely to appear on a smartphone but is also installed on tablets from various manufacturers.
Google also produce a very lightweight OS called Chrome OS which basically provides the functionality of a web browser.

CPU – Central Processing Unit

This is the brains of the computer and the values attributed to the CPU will give you a rough idea of how fast your computer or device will be able to run programs. However, like Operating Systems, what used to be a one horse show is now split with two main rivals; Intel and AMD.
When Intel was the primary company developing and supplying processors to the world you could gauge the speed of a new processor by comparing it to an older version. Now there are not only different brands but also different designs within each of those brands that all operate differently.
Processor speed measured in GHz can be used up to a point but because of differences in architecture an Intel chip might actually be slower than an AMD chip with a lower GHz value.
There is also the issue of multi-core CPU’s which operate like several separate CPUs piled onto one chip as well as cache size which determines how much data the chip can hold for processing at a time.
This all means that you should look out for three main specs now rather than just one:

  • Frequency (Speed) in GHz
  • Number of Cores
  • L2 & L3 Cache Size

Ultimately it comes down to real world performance, how fast programs actually run on the computer. There are lots of great benchmarking comparison sites such as Anandtech’s, which show just how well a processor runs in comparison to others.

RAM – Random Access Memory

A computer’s RAM works in tandem with the CPU to run programs on a computer. It stores large amounts of data for short periods to allow the CPU to process it. More RAM in a computer means the CPU can process more data more quickly.
For the time being RAM is pretty much the same across the board and generally the more of it there is the faster a computer will run. However, there should be a balance between the power of the CPU and the RAM as there is a trade off. A weak processor will not be able to take advantage of large amounts of additional RAM for example.

Storage – SSD & HDD

Primarily storage refers to the hard drive though information can be stored on other media such as disks. The recent development of solid state hard drives provides another area of choice for the consumer.
The main difference between Solid State Drives (SSD) and Hard Disk Drives (HDD) is, again, speed. Computer’s can load data significantly faster from SSD’s than they can from HDD’s as HDD’s require a disk to spin to read the data somewhat like a CD.
This makes a noticeable difference when running heavy duty programs such as image or video editing software or simply loading large files. However, SSD’s have not yet reached the capacity of HDD’s with 500GB typically being the largest you are likely to see. They are also much more expensive.
A common option is to have a small SSD on which the OS and some critical, large programs are installed and have a large HDD to store the rest of the data.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/tambako/2551366937/”>Tambako the Jaguar</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
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