Basic Computer Hardware Guide

This is a summary of the basic hardware components of a computer.

A computer's central processing unit (CPU) is like the "brain" of the computer. The CPU carries out instructions by performing arithmetic and logical calculations.

Major Specifications


For information on processors see:

Random Access Memory (RAM) acts as super fast temporary storage for the CPU; programs load necessary data from storage into RAM. The CPU then accesses the data on RAM to take advantage of the significant speed advantages of RAM over long-term storage. The RAM is analogous to the desk space in an office, it is the limiting factor determining how much 'stuff' can be running at one time. Data is only stored on RAM when the computer it is receiving power (i.e. the data on RAM will disappear when the computer is turned off).

Major Specifications


The video card or graphics processing unit (GPU) drives the computer's display. The GPU can also act as an extra processor when doing high resource calculations. There are two types of video cards:

Major Specifications


The screen that the computer displays information on.

Major Specifications


The optical drive is used to read and write files to CD, DVD and Blu-Ray discs. Many newer laptops forgo including an optical drive to maximize the portability and minimize the weight. External USB optical drives are commonly used for computers that do not have one installed.

Major Specifications


A storage device is like the file cabinet of the computer (long-term storage for data like documents and photos). Hard Disk Drives (HDD) or more commonly referred to hard drives are the 'old-fashioned' type of storage. Because the technology is well established the advantage of HDDs is that they are cheap and can come in large storage options. The other type of storage are Solid State Drives (SSD). SSDs are faster, more durable, and generally more reliable but since the technology is relatively new it is pricier and is not available in large storage quantities.

Major Specifications

Hard Disk Drive (HDD):
Solid State Drive (SSD):

Input/Output (referred to as IO and I/O) is what interfaces in between devices.

Major Specifications

Additional Resources