Understanding computers plays a massive role in the modern world. Whether you want to become a programmer, or simply an informed computer user, it's essential to have some basic knowledge about computers.

Welcome to the first part of our series of articles, “Understanding Computer Fundamentals”! In this series, we'll go through the basic concepts and principles that every modern computer user needs to know to become proficient in using computers.

In this article, we will discuss the basics of computers, how they work and what their components are that make them function. By the end of this article, you'll have a more profound understanding of what makes up a computer and how all the different parts work together to execute commands and perform tasks. This knowledge will serve as a foundation for further learning about computers and their applications.

Everyone should know how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think!

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs

This quote from Steve Jobs highlights the importance of computer literacy in today's world and how it can enhance one's thinking skills. Learning the basics of computers can be the first step towards gaining that computer literacy and improving one's ability to think critically in a digital world.

Computer hardware and software

Computers are usually made up of two primary components: hardware and software. Hardware refers to the physical parts (components) of a computer that you can touch and feel, such as the motherboard, processor, RAM, hard drive and other parts of the computer.

Computer (PC) case with all the components attached
Computer (PC) case with all the components attached

Software, on the other hand, is a collection of programs and data that tell the computer what to do. It's the set of instructions that governs how hardware components work together and allows the computer to perform specific tasks. Without software, a computer would be useless, as it wouldn't know what tasks to perform or how to perform them.

Two monitors with programming code on it. The smartphone is between them with music player on the screen

Software is not only programs, but also includes the operating system that manages all the hardware components and provides an interface for interacting with the computer.

We typically call computers “devices” because they are not limited to just the traditional desktop or laptop computer form factors anymore. Computers can be found in a variety of devices, such as smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and even home appliances like refrigerators and washing machines.

In conclusion, computers consist of both hardware and software components. Hardware components are the physical parts of a computer, while software is the set of instructions that allow hardware to perform specific tasks.

Components of a computer

Computers consist of several components that work together to execute commands and perform tasks. The main parts (components) of a computer include the central processing unit (CPU), random access memory (RAM), hard disk drive (HDD) or solid-state drive (SSD), motherboard, power supply unit (PSU), and graphics processing unit (GPU).

We'll discuss some units in more detail so that you can understand what each component does and how it contributes to the overall functionality of the computer. The main thing that I want you to notice is that computer parts are interdependent and work together to create a functioning system. Just like, the organs in our body work together to keep us healthy and functioning properly. Each organ performs a specific function, but they all rely on each other to keep the body functioning properly.

Human organs stand

Things like keyboards, mice, monitors, and printers are considered computer peripherals. Peripherals are devices that are connected to a computer but are not part of the main components. Just like accessories that we wear, such as jewelry or a watch. Similarly, computer peripherals serve as accessories to the main components and enhance the overall functionality of a computer.

Nowadays, you can find computers everywhere, including smartwatches, smart TVs and cars. This means that computer peripherals have become computers themselves and can perform many tasks without needing to be connected to the main computer.

The role of the CPU in a computer

The role of the CPU in a computer is to process and execute instructions. The CPU (central processing unit) acts as the “brain part” of the computer, carrying out instructions received from software programs and directing other components to perform tasks as needed.

Person holding an Intel i9 CPU chip with his fingers

The CPU consists of billions of tiny transistors. Transistors are small electronic components that act as switches, and they are used to build the electronic circuits inside the CPU. In modern CPUs, transistors are used to perform calculations and execute instructions at very high speeds.

The purpose of a single transistor is to act as a switch that can be turned on or off. By turning a transistor on or off, the CPU can represent binary values of 0 or 1, which are the basic building blocks of all digital data.

It's similar to the human brain part. The CPU manages the flow of data within the computer, executing instructions and performing calculations, while the brain manages the functions of the human body, processing sensory information, making decisions, and controlling movement. It's remarkable how many similarities between the way computers and human bodies work.

The human brain can memorize and store information, unlike the CPU, which relies on other components like RAM and HDD/SSD to store data because its memory is volatile, meaning it cannot retain information when power is turned off.

CPU Overheating

Another important thing to know about the CPU, is that it's well-known for overheating if it's not properly cooled, especially during intensive tasks like gaming or video editing. To prevent overheating, it's essential to have proper cooling systems in place, such as fans or liquid cooling. Proper cooling systems can also extend the lifespan of a CPU and prevent damage to other computer components.

Intel Core i5 chip attached to the motherboard

When a CPU is installed in the computer, it's always connected to a heat sink so that the heat generated by the CPU can be dissipated. A heat sink is a metal part of the computer that sits on top of the CPU, and it's designed to absorb heat and release it into the air. In some cases, a fan is attached to the heat sink to help with heat dissipation.

But, the CPU is not the only part that generates a lot of heat, graphics cards are also notorious for generating a lot of heat, especially when playing graphically intensive games or using high-performance applications.

CPU brands

The most well-known brands of processors that you've probably heard of are Intel, AMD, and Apple. They are constantly pushing the boundaries of what's possible with modern CPUs, and they're always coming out with new generations of processors that offer better performance.

AMD Ryzen CPU chip attached to the motherboard
AMD Ryzen CPU chip attached to the motherboard

Intel and AMD are two of the most respected CPU manufacturers in the world, and they offer a wide range of CPUs for different types of users. Apple is a new player in the CPU market, having transitioned from using Intel processors to their M1 chip lately. We'll elaborate on the M1 chip in the separate chapter because it's a topic that deserves its discussion.

If you are choosing a computer and want to know which CPU is best for you, here is a listing of Intel CPUs over time: Celeron, Pentium, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 and Core i9.

History of Intel CPUs starting from cheapest to the most expensive
Intel CPUs: Celeron, Pentium, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 and Core i9

Celeron is being the cheapest and the least powerful among all Intel CPUs, while Core i9 is being the most expensive and most powerful one.

Here is the same list for AMD CPUs starting from the least powerful to the most powerful: Athlon, Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7, Ryzen 9.

History of AMD CPUs starting from cheapest to the most expensive
AMD CPUs: Athlon, Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7, Ryzen 9

These are not the only AMD CPUs available in the market because there are plenty of AMD CPUs out there that cater to different needs and budgets. I've listened the most popular ones, where AMD Athlon is the least powerful and budget-friendly, while Ryzen 9 is the most powerful and high-end one.

In conclusion, the CPU is an essential component in modern computers, responsible for executing instructions and performing calculations at very high speeds. The CPU is at the heart of a computer's performance and functionality, much like the human brain is at the center of our body's functions.

Graphics processing unit (GPU)

Another important component of a computer is the graphics processing unit (graphics card or GPU for short). The GPU is responsible for rendering images, videos, and animations. It works with the CPU to process visual data quickly and efficiently.

Without a GPU, the computer's CPU would have to handle all the graphical processing, which can be very resource-intensive and slow down overall performance. This is where the GPU is beneficial, as it can handle the graphics processing independently and leave the CPU free to focus on other tasks.

The GPU component with 3 fans attached to it
Typical GPU component with 3 fans used in PCs and crypto mining

The GPU is usually covered with a heat sink and a fan, like in the photo above, which help remove the heat generated by the GPU. Without the heat sink and fan, the GPU would quickly overheat and potentially damage itself.

Not all graphics cards are big and bulky. Some smaller GPUs are designed for use in laptops or compact desktop computers, and they may not have fans or heat sinks attached because they might not process large amounts of data that generates as much heat. However, for things like gaming or video editing, a GPU with proper cooling systems is highly recommended to prevent overheating and damage.

A graphics card is not required for the computer to work, it just an addition that can greatly enhance the computers' visual capabilities. Things like washing machines and coffee machines do not require a graphics card, as they do not have a visual interface that requires high-quality rendering.

In summary, the graphics processing unit (GPU) is an important component of a computer that handles graphical processing quickly and efficiently. To prevent the GPU from overheating, it is usually covered with a heat sink and fan that help remove the heat generated by the GPU.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

RAM is a type of computer memory that is responsible for temporarily storing data and that the CPU needs to access quickly to perform tasks. I previously said that the CPU is the brain of the computer, but RAM is like the working memory of the brain. When you open a program, the necessary data is loaded from the hard drive into RAM for quick access.

The RAM chip with 8 black memory modules
A RAM chip with 8 memory modules

In personal computers, like laptops or desktops, RAM typically comes in sticks that can be added or removed from the motherboard. The amount of RAM that a computer affects its overall performance. The bigger the amount of RAM, the better the computer can perform tasks and handle multiple programs at once.

Black squares on the memory chip are called “memory modules”. These modules are responsible for storing data and transmitting it to other components of the computer.

It's worth noting that the maximum amount of RAM that a computer can support depends on its architecture and hardware specifications. For example, a 32-bit operating system can only address up to 4 GB of RAM, even if you have installed more memory than that. To take advantage of larger amounts of RAM, you need to use a 64-bit operating system and hardware that supports it.

We will discuss the differences in different operating systems and how they impact the overall performance and functionality of a computer in the next article, since it is a complex topic that deserves its own dedicated explanation.

You should know that RAM stores only temporary data, and is erased once the computer is turned off or restarted. It gives RAM an advantage over the hard drives because it can access data much faster and more efficiently, but it also means that RAM cannot be used as a permanent storage solution.

There are different types of RAM such as DDR, DDR2, DDR3 and DDR4, and each version has different speeds and compatibility with specific hardware. Overall, the DDR4 is currently the latest and fastest type of RAM available on the market, but it is also pricier than previous versions.

In summary, RAM is a vital component of the computer that ensures smooth functioning by providing quick access to data for processing. Without enough RAM, a computer may become sluggish and struggle to handle multiple programs simultaneously. To improve your computer's performance, you can consider upgrading its RAM (if possible) or closing unnecessary programs to free up space in the memory.

Solid-State Drives and Hard Drives

Solid-State Drives (SSDs) and Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) are the two main types of storage devices used in personal computers such as laptops and desktops. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

The main difference between an SSD and an HDD lies in their storage technology. HDDs have been around for decades and use spinning disks to read and write data.

Hard drive without the upper cover
A hard drive without the top cover, just to show you what is inside of it

SSDs, on the other hand, use flash memory, which has no moving parts. It allows SSD to be much faster in accessing and retrieving data than HDDs, resulting in quicker boot-up times, faster file transfers, and more responsive overall performance.

SSD memory chip
An internal SSD chip that attaches to the motherboard

However, flash memory has some limitations. It can only be written to a limited number of times before it begins to degrade, and it is pricier than traditional hard drives on a per-gigabyte basis. That being said, many users are willing to pay extra for the improved speed and durability of SSDs over HDDs.

Computers don't care whether you use an SSD or HDD, as long as it has a storage device to store and retrieve data. The advantage of the drive over the RAM is that it provides permanent storage for data and files even when the computer is turned off. This means that you can store your documents, music, pictures, and other files on the drive without worrying about losing them if there is a power outage.

An external SSD drive, sometimes called a Portable SSD
An external SSD drive, sometimes called a Portable SSD

Even though HDDs and SSDs are much slower than the RAM, they provide a much larger storage capacity and the memory is much cheaper on a per-gigabyte basis compared to RAM. This makes them a practical solution for users who need to store large amounts of data and files on their computers without breaking the bank.

HDD and SSD are not the only storage options available. But since they are the most widely used, we haven't discussed other alternatives.

In conclusion, storage devices like HDDs and SSDs are critical for storing data and files in a computer, making them an essential component of any personal computer. By understanding the difference between HDDs and SSDs, users can make proper decisions when it comes to purchasing a new computer or upgrading an existing one based on their specific needs and budget.

Apple Silicon chip

The Apple Silicon chip is the new processor that Apple has introduced for their Mac computers. The M1 chip is a powerful and energy-efficient chip that combines multiple components, including the central processing unit (CPU), graphics processing unit (GPU), and neural engine, into a single piece of hardware.

The Neural engine refers to a component of the M1 chip that is specifically designed for machine learning tasks. It is a powerful component that can perform over 11 trillion operations per second.

Apple Silicon M1 Chip banner

The reason I've decided to talk about this chip in this article is because it represents a major change in the architecture of computers that we all used to. Instead of having CPU, GPU, and RAM as separate components, the M1 and M2 chips integrate them all into one chip. This integration of components makes the computer more energy-efficient and faster, while also taking up less space.

Overall, advancements in computer technology have resulted in the development of more efficient and faster computers. As technology continues to evolve, we can expect even more exciting developments in the field of computer hardware and storage.


We discussed what a computer is and the various components that make it up, including the central processing unit (CPU), the graphics processing unit (GPU), random access memory (RAM), storage devices like hard disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SSD).

Of course, computers are much more complicated than what we've talked about in this article, but for the most part, these components are what allow a computer to function and perform tasks.

Computers are very similar to our bodies, each component plays an important role in the overall performance and functionality. Just as we need to take care of our bodies by providing them with proper nutrition and exercise, we also need to ensure that our computers are well-maintained, updated regularly, and protected from malware and viruses. By staying up-to-date with the latest hardware and software advancements, we can ensure that our computers continue to meet our needs efficiently and effectively.

In the next article, we'll discuss the software that runs on computers and enables them to perform various tasks. If you have any feedback that you want to share, feel free to leave a comment down below. I always appreciate hearing from readers and welcome any suggestions or topics you would like me to cover in future articles.

Bonus chapter

Have you noticed that you always see the same amount of RAM mentioned in laptops and computers? It's always a doubled number, such as 1 GB, 2 GB, 4 GB, 8 GB, 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB, 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB, and so on. Why don't we see odd numbers like 400 GB or 600 GB?

RAM sizes are typically expressed in powers of two because of how computer memory is addressed and managed. This is because computers use a binary system (ones and zeroes) to store and process information, and powers of 2 align with this system. For example, 2 to the power of 10 (which is approximately 1000) is a common measure of 1 GB of RAM. So, using powers of 2 for RAM sizes makes it easier for computers to handle and process the information in the memory.

Imagine that you want to remember five things. You might use five fingers to count them, but computers don't have fingers! Instead, they use binary, which means they can only count in 0s and 1s. So, to make it easier for the computer to remember things, we use numbers that double, like 2, 4, 8, and so on.

Instead of remembering 512 GB of data, a computer would find it easier to remember 2^29, which translates to 536,870,912 bytes of data.

In summary, the use of powers of two for RAM sizes is a product of how computer memory is addressed and managed. The same rule goes for GPU, SSD, HDD, and other computer hardware capacities as well. So, next time you see a computer with 8 GB of RAM, remember that it is not just an arbitrary number, but a deliberate choice based on the binary system used by computers.

Keywords: technology, laptop, device, fundamentals, pc, cpu, gpu, ram, ssd, hdd, silicon, m1, intel, amd, ryzen, hardware, jobs