Computers have become a part of our daily lives, many homes now have multiple computers, usually a combination of desktop and laptop models. Desktops allow for greater expansion, multiple drives for additional storage, expansion cards to run several monitors, huge amounts of memory all fit in the large case and can be cooled by as many fans as necessary. Laptops are more limited because of their compact size, portability is their big advantage. Computers come in two flavors, PC's and Mac's, most home PC's run a version of "Windows" an operating system developed by Microsoft. Mac's have traditionally run an operating system developed by their manufacturer, Apple Inc. however their latest models will also run "Windows" giving the user the best of both worlds.

Computer Basics

History - Components - Ergonomics - General

History

Simon, an electronic brain is considered to be the first personal computer, first described in 1949, plans were published to build it in a series of Radio Electronics issues in 1950 and 1951. This machine, costing about $300, could perform the functions of addition, negation, greater than, and selection. The inventor, Edmund C. Berkeley said this about it, "Simon has two futures. In first place Simon can grow. With another chassis and some wiring and engineering, the machine will be able to compute decimally, Perhaps in six months more, we may be able to have it working on real problems. In the second place, Simon may start a fad of building baby mechanical brains, similar to the hobby of building crystal radio sets that swept the country in the 1920's."

Unfortunately personal computers did not really come into popularity until the mid 1970's. In 1973 the Xerox Alto was introduced, but never commercially produced, probably the most innovative design in computer history, it had features that would not be commonly seen for another 10 years. It had a mouse, a GUI, an object-oriented operating system and networked with the first ethernet cards.

IBM introduced the 5100 in 1975, unfortunately the price starting at $9000 for 16k of memory and up to $20,000 for 64k was out of reach for the average person.

The Apple ][ was introduced in 1977 and was the first highly sucessful computer, selling for about $1300.

The IBM PC was introduced in 1981, as competition to machines manufactured by Apple II, Commodore PET and Tandy Corporation.

A 1984 Super Bowl commercial introduced the Macintosh 128K, at $2500 it was one of the first commercially successful personal computers to use a graphical user interface (GUI) and mouse instead of the then-standard command line interface.

Components

Motherboard

A motherboard is the central or primary circuit board. A typical computer has the microprocessor, main memory, and other basic components on the motherboard. Components such as external storage, control circuits for video display and sound, and peripheral devices are attached to it by cables or other connectors.

CPU

The CPU, central processing unit, is the brains of the computer, also known as the processor. This is where most calculations take place, usually by a single chip called a microprocessor. The speed of the processor is determined by the clock rate, in cycles per second, measured in hertz. This can be confusing as there are many different processors used, sometimes a slower chip may be more efficient than a faster rated chip.

Newer computers now use dual or quad processors to increase the power of the computer.

RAM

RAM, random access memory, is used as 'main memory' or primary storage: the working area used for loading, displaying and manipulating applications and data. Generally easily removed to be upgraded with larger sticks, common types are SIMMS, DIMMS and SO-DIMMS. This type of memory does not retain data when the computer is turned off. Most computers now need 2 Gigabites or more to run efficiently.

Hard Drive or Disk

The Hard Drive is a device which stores digitally encoded data on rapidly rotating platters with magnetic surfaces. This is where the operating system resides along with the applications you install and the files created by them. Information is stored on the drive when the computer is shut down to be accessible again when it is started up. The size is now measured in Gigabites, 40 GB's is about the minimum required, more will be required if large files such as movies are stored. The physical size of the disks are usually 3.5" in desktop computers and 2.5" in laptops. Most older drives have what is refered to as an IDE or ATA interface, newer computers are now using SATA interfaces.

Solid State Drives, SSD, are becoming more popular as the price of manufacturing them is coming down, they have no moving parts so are much faster than the drives with the rotating platters.

Several computer are offering combinations, smaller SSD's for fast rendering of information in the operating system and frequently used files along with larger platter style disks for storage of large files such as videos.

More than one drive may be used, some are installed internally, others are external connected by USB or firewire.

Optical Drive

An optical drive will read and record DVD and or CD disks.

Video Ram

A video card drives your display, the size of display and or resolution it will power is determined by the amout of video ram on the card.

Where space is limited the graphics card may be incorporated into the motherboard.

PCI Bus

A PCI, peripheral component interconnect, bus allows components to be attached to the motherboard.

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