In a recent coffee conversation with PEG members, we discussed technology and how it could be used better to help us get our work done more efficiently. A number of questions were raised which prompted me to put together a series of blog posts on this mysterious ‘technology’.
Is technology the bane of our lives or can it really make our work simpler?
This series of blogs looks at the following four topics:
- The basics of computers
- Typical problems encountered with computers
- What to look for when upgrading your computer
- Tips for improving your tech experience
In this first blog, I discuss the basics because many of the problems and suggested solutions are directly linked to these.
What are the two main types of computer?
Most of us work with one of two kinds of computer: a ‘desktop’ computer or a ‘laptop’ (or portable or even ‘notebook’) computer.
A desktop has external devices like the mouse, screen and keyboard attached to the central processing unit (CPU), or where the actual computing machine is located. These components are discussed in detail later. A laptop is one unit into which all of these devices are built.
Let us compare the advantages and disadvantages of desktops and laptops:
Desktop versus laptop
|Ideal for office environments||Ideal for single users not dependent on an office|
|Large in size – CPU fits on or under desk||Small in size, sits on top of desk|
|Large screen||Smaller screen|
|Devices (such as mouse, screen) are external (peripheral)||Devices are built in|
|Requires constant fixed power source||Runs on fixed power supply and has a built-in battery|
|Powerful processor||Less powerful processor|
|Larger number of data ports and peripheral device ports (eg printer, screen, etc)||Fewer data ports and peripheral device ports (eg printer, mouse, second external screen, etc)|
|Easier to repair||More difficult to repair because of compact structure|
What are the basic components of a computer?
All computers, whether desktop or laptop, have the same three components:
- Input devices (eg mouse, keyboard)
- Output devices (eg screen, printer, speakers)
Diagram of the main components of a computer. Source: Author’s own
Let us discuss each of these in turn.
1. Input devices
The user uses input devices to enter instructions, information and raw data into the computer. Typical input devices are the mouse, the keyboard or even the microphone.
2. Central processing unit (CPU)
The computer’s main functions are carried out in the CPU. The functions performed include controlling, processing and storage.
The controller is like a supervisor, checking that operations and instructions are executed in the correct sequence and that they are completed correctly.
The CPU ensures that storage of data takes place or that retrieval of data is carried out. The Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU) is the place where arithmetic calculations such as simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and logic operations such as OR and AND take place.
The temporary memory, or RAM, is the place where the computer stores information that it is currently working on. This is where the computer stores your work as you are creating it. The computer can access this information quickly, but it is stored here only temporarily.
Programs and applications such as Microsoft Office are stored in the permanent storage unit. When users open them, the CPU ensures that they run correctly.
There are two types of storage:
- System storage: this is where the programs and applications necessary to run the computer are located; and
- User storage: this is where the users store their data, in folders they create for this purpose.
3. Output devices
The user sees the result of the processing that is performed in the CPU via an output process on one of the computer’s output devices, normally on the screen or through a printer.
Let us look at an example to illustrate these steps:
- The user uses the mouse to click on Microsoft Word = input
- The computer opens Microsoft Word. For this the CPU processes internal commands to find the application called Microsoft Word from the permanent storage = processing
- It starts the application and displays the Microsoft Word start screen = output
- A list of recently opened documents may be listed, which is information stored in the permanent memory. Once the user selects a document to open, this gets loaded into the temporary memory = RAM
In the next blog I’ll look at signs that it might be time to get a new computer: power-related problems, overheating, outdated hardware, diminished processing power, faulty screen, issues with the keyboard and hard drive blues.