No worries. This article is not a computer science course or anything complex like that. It is just a simple overview of your computer. Why this article? Because when things go wrong, it’s always good to know the basic parts of the computer so that you can more effectively get the help you need at lower cost. Just like with a car, the more you know about your car, the better you can communicate with an auto mechanic and thus get a lower repair bill.
In a nutshell, a computer, whether it is a laptop or a desktop, is a bunch of electronic parts that “talk” to each other to help you with some task or activity. We’ll focus on the laptop since this is more common than desktops. Every laptop has a TV-looking monitor and a thin rectangular bottom with a keyboard on it. But underneath that keyboard is a “major city” of parts the work together to bring you whatever you click for.
As with any major city, there is a City Mayor and a City Council that work together to govern the City. For computers, that mayor is called a central processing unit, or CPU. It’s the brains of the city. But like any city, the mayor has to work with the City Council to get things done. In our case, that City Council is the Operating System. Just like with city politics, the interaction between the CPU and Operating System can get messy and complicated, but if you take out any one of the two, your computer won’t be a computer anymore.
Both the CPU and Operating System are residents of “Downtown” which is called the motherboard. If you ever notice a downtown of any major city, it is a maze of streets and buildings. And if you ever look at a motherboard, it’s the same way. The motherboard provides “streets” (or
circuits) so that data can race down streets from one “building” (or
component) to another for any number of reasons. Can you imagine a major city without a downtown? There would be chaos as there wouldn’t be a central hub to govern the city from. Same thing with a motherboard. Your computer would be chaotic without one. How would data get sent from your hard drive to your monitor or sound card? You wouldn’t be able to see or hear anything from your business’ social media sites. When your computer starts doing some weird stuff you’ve never seen before, besides being slow, then chances are, the motherboard might be going bad, and hence, downtown is chaotic.
Every city has a Hall of Records and library system for storing info about the city and books on every subject imaginable. Likewise, your hard drive stores all of your important business info, documents, pictures, videos, and software applications. The mayor (your computer’s
CPU) regulates how data goes from your “library” to other “lobbyists”
the mayor prefers at the time. Yes, the CPU is a mayor that has favorites among lobbyists, so when you’re on Instagram and upload a picture, the mayor tells the librarian when to move the picture file from the hard drive and where to send it to. That’s how city bosses roll! Nothing moves in the city unless the boss says it can move.
The same “boss moves” that the CPU does with the hard drive is the same it does with all devices, including your mouse, keyboard, video card (the video lobbyist whose job it is to send video data to the display
monitor) and the sound card (same as the video lobbyist, but for sound to go to your speakers).
Keeping with our city analogy, your city (the laptop) has a certain budget for performing the daily duties of running the city on behalf of the mayor. This budget goes to staff who make sure when the boss says jump, they ask “how high?” This is what the computer’s memory does.
Every city employee has a cubicle to work from, and each cubicle has a cubicle number. This cubicle number is similar to each chunk of memory your computer has. Every computer memory module has a register, which is the same as a cubicle in an office. Thus, the memory module is like an office floor. If the workload of the current number of city employees grows faster than the employees can keep up with, then problems will occur as some devices won’t be able to process data that you want to see or hear. For instance, if your city has 32 employees, and each employee can handle one website click at a time, then it can get overwhelmed if you go to Facebook and click on a video, and about the same time you flip through a bunch of pics on Instagram and Pinterest, and then you plug your earphones to the computer to hear stuff, and then you have CNN running a news video, and then you have a game running in the background, etc. At some point, the city employees will go on strike, and your city will come to a crashing halt. This is when you may need more memory (more city employees). And sometimes, you might also need more library staff (a bigger hard drive) to handle the growing number of city employees managing the city activity.
It’s hard out here for a city boss!
Finally, let’s assume you have a well-run city. City employees and librarians are working well. The mayor and city council are happy. But then out of nowhere, the mafia come downtown and rough up some employees and demand extortion from the mayor? Who do you call? The police and FBI! The police will arrest the bad guys, and the FBI will monitor the city daily for future threats to the city’s security. This is what anti-virus software does. Without it, the bad guys can do a lot of damage, and even burn the city down if their demands are not met.
Hopefully with this knowledge, you have a little better understanding of how your computer works. When something goes wrong, you have a better chance of explaining it to a computer tech repair person, and thus give the impression you’re not some dumb novice. That, in turn, can keep you repair costs in check. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.