How Does a Computer Work?

The computer has become an indispensable part of home and business life. As a result, computers drive most of the 'daily' functions of life in the so-called developed world.

Nowadays, most people have access to a modern computer, desktop, or a laptop at home and at work. So, what are the basics of using personal computers and how do the components work?

Importance of Modern Computers in the UK

The sales of PCs have fallen quite substantially in recent years, held up mainly by sales to businesses.

What is the most likely reason for it? Many would argue it is the growing popularity of the ‘Tablet’.

Modern Tablet PCs can now do most of the things that people require of a personal computer (PC).

With the growing popularity of Tablets, the likelihood is that upgraded versions will cope with everything needed for day-to-day usage.

But, there is another big plus for Tablets. They command a cheaper price (if compared to a laptop or a personal computer).

Imagine a Life without Computers

Most PC users will be quite familiar with the basics of computer hardware. Even so, we use many other computer components on a daily basis.

In fact, any noticeable change (or stop) to computer-based Information Technology would change our lives in a dramatic way.

It would disrupt power systems and transportation systems would become an absolute mess. Many of the vital hospital functions would cease and the Income Tax system would crash! Can you imagine how that would affect the employment industry in a civilised country?

But wait – there’s more:

On a day to day level, many watches or clocks would fail. Many shops would lose the facility to accept payments. You would not be able to get money out of, or into, your bank accounts.

Cars would stop, and the circulation of newspapers and magazines would end. The educational processes would add to the disaster.

On a less traumatic note, washing machines would malfunction, and anything based upon ‘chip’ technology would fail to work!

Note: The main section contains more advice and information about Information Technology (IT) rules and the importance of robots in the United Kingdom.

The Development of Mobile Phones

Mobile phones in particular, are changing all the time. It will not be too long before the humble mobile will be the only visible computer that we need in our lives.

Many have already taken that as read, and use their smartphones for most of the applications they were once using laptops for.

Computers Used in Business

The dependence on home-based computers is only part of the story. Most businesses now rely on a computer of some sorts to keep their company running smoothly.

Businesses use computers for the collection and transfer of money. As such, computerised systems take money out of credit cards and place it elsewhere.

Some of the modern day uses for computers in business, include:

  • Computerised robots making items that used to be manufactured by hand on a production line.
  • A computer carries out and monitors business stock control (if not, it should be).
  • Computerised scanners read barcodes, which are essential for retail business and for matters of locating the stock.
  • All government departments use computers to carry out much of the work that it is responsible for.

Even so, one of the reasons we do not fully realize the importance of computers is the fact that we can’t actually see them. The invisible computers keep our cars moving and change the traffic lights.

Computers catch us when we break national speed limits, or we jump the lights. PCs also tell us which turning to take in 50 metres as we undertake our journeys. They automatically turn on our radios to the preferred station, and the uses continue.

Note: This is the world and moment in time for the ultraportable computer. As such, we are all in the computer zone – whether we like it or not!

What is a Computer and How Does it Work?

In simple terms, a computer contains two essential components, the hardware and the Software. Even though they do different jobs, one without the other is no use whatsoever.

Computers need to have hardware and software components to achieve anything interesting or important.

You might consider this as the simple explanation for beginners on what personal computers are and how they work.

Nonetheless, manufacturers change the shape and form of computers on a regular basis to keep up with the high demand for new innovation.

Nowadays, a computer can fit into a large pocket and be a single piece of hardware (hinged or not). Of course, we are referring to the Tablet PC.

Computer Hardware

The hardware parts of the computer are basically everything you can ‘see or touch’. But, sometimes a technician may need to take it apart to access them. Thus, the parts you can see are most likely hardware components.

Often, the hardware of a PC computer consists of a tower, or other similar unit, that encloses all the parts that you should not touch.

The parts of a computer that you can see (and touch) include:

  • Keyboard
    • A keyboard is the device that I am typing on at the moment. It has many similarities to a typewriter, but it is even smarter. It has English letters and numbers with a facility to switch to another script other than English letters. For example, anyone who types in Russian would have a keyboard that also allows them to input words and symbols in Russian language as well as English.
  • Monitor
    • The monitor is the part that computer users look at to ensure the intended outcome is correct (e.g. the spelling). The monitor also lets designers see the web page they are creating. Monitors are much like the screen of a television, they display text and images. You can get computer monitors in a huge variety of sizes (like a TV).
  • Printer
    • A printer would be essential to get a copy of your work (e.g. text or images). You can print them off to show a friend without having to take your computer with you. In simple terms, a printer would give you the written page of what you are doing on the computer.
  • Mouse
    • A computer mouse is a small size accessory that allows you to use your computer in an efficient way. In fact, most modern computers will not work too effectively without a mouse.
  • Speakers
    • Personal computers contain one, two, or sometimes even more speakers. They are similar to those used in a stereo system, but smaller. Having speakers on a computer means you can hear sound effects, play CDs, and listen to your friends via chat devices. They would speak into their combined headphone/microphone set. Some computers also have reasonable speaker systems built into the monitor.
  • Headphones
    • If you don’t have speakers, headphones will plug into your computer. You can also listen to your own private conversations or a compact disc (CD) without others in the vicinity being able to hear the conversation.
  • Modem
    • Often, the modem fits inside the computer system box. It may also be an external modem (outside of the main box). Put simply, a modem does the same job as a telephone handset. It allows you to communicate with other computers either by email, or on a chat page. Thus, without a modem a computer would be unable to communicate with other computers.
  • External Hard Drive (optional)
    • Despite being a large amount, computers do have limited storage space for storing programs and files. An external hard drive is often used as additional storage. An external hard drive is also useful for backing up data files, so you have a separate copy of them. That could be invaluable if the originals get corrupted or wiped out on the computer internal hard drive.

Note: There are other bits and pieces of hardware that you can add onto a computer. To avoid confusion, they are called hardware even if they feel soft, because you can see and touch them!

Computer Software

Without software, a computer will be more or less completely useless. It might be new, it might look nice, but it will serve no useful function unless it has software installed.

So, what is this software? You can consider it as being similar to a brain. In fact lots of different brains – all doing different things at the same time.

Software is basically a ‘program’ that is installed inside the computer. Even if you open up your computer, you will not see the software programs.

In a nutshell…

All computers need to start life with an Operating System (OS). This is the real brain of the computer that allows all the other programs to work properly. MicrosoftTM Windows is a commonly used computer Operating System. Even so, there are others.

You can get a range of different software programs to write text, alter text, and generally mess about with your textual content.

Other computer software programs will allow you to create websites and web pages. You can then ‘post’ them to the World Wide Web (e.g. one of the most common acronyms – WWW) for everyone to see.

Note: Imaging programs are great fun for making your friends look silly. You can give them a big nose or a wide mouth. The possibilities really are endless!

Software Imaging Programs

You can also use an imaging program to enhance the images you take with a digital camera. The camera will also have software installed that will connect with a computer, and then send it to the computer.

The resulting photographs are still SOFTWARE, even though you can see them. But, if you choose to print them out they will become what is known as a hard copy – even though the paper is soft.

Basically, software is anything that is sold on a CD for installation to a computer which then becomes a program. This process is often called an application.

After installing the program on the computer there is no further need for the CD (unless there’s important DATA files stored on it).

Computer software components can go wrong. It can get bugs or become corrupted. Even so, most programs allow the re-installation of the original software from the original CD. That is one reason why you should never discard computer software after installing it.

Other free computer software programs can help you:

  • Create a novel (e.g. write a book for children)
  • Design a leaflet
  • Keep a diary
  • Play games
  • Store information on a database
  • Write music

Note: Computer hardware is something that will make a noise if you drop it on the floor. But, you cannot drop computer software programs (unless the computer hits the ground). The software is safely hidden away inside the computer where you cannot tamper with it.

Related Help Guides

Note: This short video (presented by Bill Gates) explains how revolutionary technology changes our lives and livelihoods on a regular basis.

Personal Computers: What Makes a Computer Work?