Thursday, March 19, 2020

The basics of a computer and how to upgrade them

You know how to use a computer, but how well do you know what's inside?

As complicated as the inner workings of computers may seem, they are made up of only a few key elements. But what is it? What are the different parts of a PC?

We will show you how to identify the parts of your computer by name.

What are the basic components of a computer?

A PC consists of several discrete components designed to work together. With a desktop computer, these components can be replaced relatively easily, less on a laptop. This is due to the dimensions of the laptops, their power and cooling requirements and a lack of standardization.

Fortunately, this is not a problem with desktop PCs. Designed to last longer, desktops can be customized and upgraded by replacing some or all of the components.

But what are these components called? Most computers come with seven different parts:

Motherboard (also known as a "motherboard")

RAM memory)

Processor (CPU)

Power unit (PSU)

Storage device (e.g. hard drive)

Removable storage (optical drive or even USB)

Cooling fans

You will also find PCs with two optional additional components:

Graphics card (also called GPU or video card)
Sound card (usually discrete integrated cards are available for specialized use)
These parts are not necessary in most cases, since the motherboard can reproduce their purpose. However, the discrete dedicated cards offer improved processing and performance.

Understanding the parts of a PC

Below we will examine each of these parts in more detail and where they are located. You will also have an idea of ​​how to upgrade them. This will give you the information you need to replace the parts yourself.

Note that we are only looking at the basics of IT components. This is not a complete description of the interior of your PC. When purchasing new parts, you should be aware of the compatibility of the components. Our PC parts buying guide with PC Part Picker will explain this in more detail.

IMPORTANT: Before opening your PC and handling parts of the PC, turn off the computer and disconnect it from the mains. You should also inquire about anti-static precautions

What is static electricity? And how to get rid of it
Concerned about static electricity? If you are building a PC, you should be. Learn how to get rid of static electricity today.

Mini ITX motherboard

Your motherboard (also known as a motherboard) is where all of the components plug in.

It has slots for the CPU, RAM, storage devices, and video and audio cards. If you are a beginner, we will not advise you to upgrade your motherboard yourself. It requires full compatibility with not only the other components, but also the PC case.

However, the other components discussed here require that you disconnect items from the motherboard.

Random access memory (RAM)
RAM installed on a PC motherboard

RAM is temporary (or short-term) memory and relates to overall system performance and speed. RAM modules are long sticks that plug directly into your motherboard. The computer guide or motherboard manual will tell you the maximum amount of RAM supported by your system.

Upgrading RAM depends on the number of slots you have and the maximum size supported by each slot. Some computers require that you have the same amount of RAM in each location. Consult the PC manual to confirm this.

Exchanging RAM is simple: unclip the sockets at one (sometimes one) of the ends of the slots and remove the RAM. Thanks to a notch, the replacement modules will only adapt in one direction. Align the new module with the notch and press firmly into the slot until the latches lock it in place. Make sure they are secure and that you are finished.

Central processing unit (CPU)
This PC part is the CPU

If a computer were a human, the CPU would be the brain. It is the most important part of a computer. The processor processes data, calculations and controls most of the other components.

The processors are located on the motherboard in a dedicated socket. It is important to know that these sockets are often specific to particular generations of CPUs. They are also specific to processor manufacturers (AMD or Intel).

Once attached to the motherboard, a CPU is cooled with a cooling unit, usually a heat sink and a fan. However, other PC cooling solutions are available.

Like the motherboard, it doesn't make sense to upgrade your CPU yourself if you are a beginner. In most cases, upgrading your processor will require a new motherboard, as well as a heat sink and perhaps other components.

Learn more in our guide on how a CPU works

What is a CPU and what does it do?
Computer acronyms are confusing. What is a CPU anyway? And do I need a quad or dual core processor? What about AMD or Intel? We are here to explain the difference to you!

Power unit (PSU)
A PC power supply unit (PSU)

The PC's power supply is the power supply, usually located at the back of the PC case. A look at the back of your computer will show you where the power cable is connected. There is usually an on / off switch on this, in addition to the power switch on the front of the computer.

The PSUs supply the motherboard and the CPU via dedicated cables. The SATA power cables power the rest of the computer. Power supplies are rated based on the amount of power they provide (for example 600 watts).

It is important that your computer is properly powered. If not, the components will not function properly and the system will soon fail.

To upgrade your PSU, first find the specifications for the video card and CPU. You also want to make sure you get the correct connectors for your system. The power supply can be replaced by first disconnecting all internal cables. Follow this by removing the screws that secure it to the PC case.

Fixed storage device (hard drive or SSD)
Connect your old hard drive to your PC

The data is kept on your PC in a storage device. For decades, a hard drive (HDD) has served this purpose, but PCs are increasingly dependent on other devices. These are usually Solid State Storage (SSD) storage devices, compact 2.5-inch devices that look like hard drives.

The hard drives and SSDs are located on the front of the PC case and are connected to the motherboard via SATA cables. The readers required two cables: one for power, one for data. Older drives rely on larger flat cables, called PATA, with an IDE connector for data. They are powered by Molex sockets.

If a hard drive or SSD dies or you plan to upgrade to a larger storage device, they can be easily replaced. Take the necessary backup precautions before unplugging the device and removing the fixing screws / clips. The SSD or hard drive can then be replaced.

Removable storage: DVD-ROM or Blu-ray
DVD player
Image credit: William Hook / Wikimedia
Increasingly rare on laptops, desktop computers always seem to come with an optical drive. This is removable storage, usually a DVD-ROM or Blu-ray drive, with read and write capabilities.

Upgrading an optical drive is simple. Disconnect the cables, unscrew or unlock the reader from its housing, then push it from the front of the case.

A USB memory stick or an SD card, both based on flash RAM memory, also constitute removable storage. PCs often come with a card reader and USB ports on the front. Replacing a card reader is simple, again by unplugging it and pushing it back to remove it.

Cooling fans
CPU cooling fan

An often overlooked PC part is the cooling fan. At least two are required: one for the CPU and one for the enclosure.

The purpose of the CPU fan is to keep the CPU cool. Because it's warm inside a computer, the fans on the motherboard draw in fresh air; additional fans extract heated air.

In most cases, there should be a fan on the back of the case, another on the side or front. Many cases come with built-in fans, but these are generally of poor quality. Top fans can be installed, designed to replace or supplement the existing cooling solution.

The cooling fans are usually supplied by a power cable and are fixed to the housing with screws. Many fans come with integrated LEDs to pimp your PC case.

Graphics card (GPU)
A PC graphics card (aka video card or GPU)

Also known as a video card, the graphics card or GPU (Graphic Processing Unit) connects your computer to a screen. While older PCs used a VGA port, today's computers use HDMI to connect to HD displays.

In most cases, the video output port is connected to an integrated graphics card on the motherboard. However, this is not always the case.

Modern games require better graphics cards. As such, gamers, video editors, graphic designers and other specialists use dedicated graphics cards. GPUs are inserted into a dedicated PCI-Express (PCIe) slot on the PC motherboard. This replaces the GPU on the motherboard.

Graphics cards are prone to compatibility issues such as size specifications, location of slots, type of motherboard, processor speed, and power outlet. However, upgrading is as simple as removing the screw and retaining clip, disconnecting the GPU and inserting the replacement in its place.

PC sound card

On the back of your PC, you will usually find three to five small circular ports. These are usually colored. In some cases, you can also find them on the front of your PC.

These are the audio ports, connected to your computer's sound card. Like the video card, a sound card is generally integrated into the motherboard. However, for specialized use such as gaming and audio development or recording, a dedicated sound card can be used.

Sound cards offer various audio enhancements, such as advanced audio processing and Dolby 7.1 surround sound. Like the GPU, the sound card fits into a PCIe slot on the motherboard (a different slot from the GPU, however).

A new sound card has minimal compatibility issues.

You now know the different parts of a computer
Now you should know the names of the different parts of your computer's PC. You should also be able to recognize them also and have an idea of ​​how they can be replaced.

Congratulations! You are well on your way to figuring out how to maintain your own computer and save money. It might even lead you to build your own one day.

But this article is not about how to build a computer. If you're ready to do it, check out our guide on how to build a PC

How to Build Your Own PC

It is very rewarding to build your own PC; as well as intimidating. But the process itself is actually quite simple. We will explain everything you need to know.

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