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The personal computer has come a long way from the massive 2000-vacuum tube ENIAC.  The device you’re using right now to view this website is generations down the road and millions of times faster and more efficient.

In the broadest definition, a computer is a device that can make many mathematical and logical calculations in a single second.  These days, however, a computer isn’t just a single device.  It’s many different components working with each other to convert your inputs into outputs.

At the heart of a computer is its processor.  This is the component that cranks through all of the calculations.  Current computers can do several billion calculations in a single second.

A processor has to interface with other components like its memory and I/O (input-output) components.  That’s where the motherboard comes into play.  The processor hooks into the motherboard sends/receives all of its data through it.

Connecting to the motherboard is a variety of input and output components.  One such important component is its RAM or random-access-memory.  RAM is like the processors chalkboard.  It is used to effectively store temporary data that is to be used in a calculation.

Another type of memory is permanent storage.  This comes in the form of hard drives.  These devices are large platters of magnetic disks that can be used to store billions of bits (the smallest unit of memory, either a 1 or 0) at once.  A form of portable permanent memory is the CD or DVD disc.  These are read from CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs.

Of course, you’ll need to see what you’re doing, and so monitors are displays used to output visual information, while video cards convert data into the a visual feed to the monitor.

For sound, there is the sound card that sends audio information to your speakers or headphones.

Among the most basic components these days is the ubiquitous keyboard and mouse.  They are the only way to effectively navigate and input information to the computer by the user.

You’ll also need some form of networking to connect your computer to other computers via the Internet.

We’ll cover all of these key hardware components, along with other issues like choose a computer and its specifications.  In our final section we will discuss some of the basic hardware maintenance routines you should do to keep your computer running smoothly.