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Computer Hardware Definition

Hardware is a comprehensive term for all of the physical parts of a computer, as distinguished from the data it contains or operates on, and the software that provides instructions for the hardware to acoomplish tasks. The boundary between hardware and software is slightly blurry - firmware is software that is "built-in" to the hardware, but such firmware is usually the province of computer programmers and computer engineers in any case and not an issue that computer users need to concern themselves with.

A typical computer (Personal Computer, PC) contains in a desktop or tower case the following parts:

Motherboard which holds the CPU, main memory and other parts, and has slots for expansion cards
power supply - a case that holds a transformer, voltage control and fan
storage controllers, of IDE, SCSI or other type, that control hard disk , floppy disk, CD-ROM and other drives; the controllers sit directly on the motherboard (on-board) or on expansion cards
graphics controller that produces the output for the monitor
the hard disk, floppy disk and other drives for mass storage
interface controllers (parallel, serial, USB, Firewire) to connect the computer to external peripheral devices such as printers or scanners

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Most Common Computer Hardware

CPU
Pronounced as separate letters it is the abbreviation for central processing unit. The CPU is the brains of the computer. Sometimes referred to simply as the central processor, but more commonly called processor, the CPU is where most calculations take place. In terms of computing power, the CPU is the most important element of a computer system.
Computer speakers, or multimedia speakers
Computer speakers, or multimedia speakers, are speakers external to a computer, that disable the lower fidelity built-in speaker. They often have a low-power internal amplifier. The standard audio connection is a 3.5 mm (approximately 1/8 inch) stereo jack plug often color-coded lime green (following the PC 99 standard) for computer sound cards. A plug and socket for a two-wire (signal and ground) coaxial cable that is widely used to connect analog audio and video components.


Hard disk
A hard disk is part of a unit, often called a "disk drive," "hard drive," or "hard disk drive," that stores and provides relatively quick access to large amounts of data on an electromagnetically charged surface or set of surfaces. Today's computers typically come with a hard disk that contains several billion bytes (gigabytes) of storage. A hard disk is really a set of stacked "disks," each of which, like phonograph records, has data recorded electromagnetically in concentric circles or "tracks" on the disk. A "head" (something like a phonograph arm but in a relatively fixed position) records (writes) or reads the information on the tracks. Two heads, one on each side of a disk, read or write the data as the disk spins. Each read or write operation requires that data be located, which is an operation called a "seek." (Data already in a disk cache, however, will be located more quickly.
RAM
RAM is small, both in physical size (it's stored in microchips) and in the amount of data it can hold. It's much smaller than your hard disk. A typical computer may come with 256 million bytes of RAM and a hard disk that can hold 40 billion bytes. RAM comes in the form of "discrete" (meaning separate) microchips and also in the form of modules that plug into holes in the computer's motherboard. These holes connect through a bus or set of electrical paths to the processor. The hard drive, on the other hand, stores data on a magnetized surface that looks like a phonograph record.
Most personal computers are designed to allow you to add additional RAM modules up to a certain limit. Having more RAM in your computer reduces the number of times that the computer processor has to read data in from your hard disk, an operation that takes much longer than reading data from RAM. (RAM access time is in nanoseconds; hard disk access time is in milliseconds.)
OPTICAL DRIVE
In the real world, "optical" refers to vision, or the ability to see. In the computer world, however, "optical" refers to lasers, which can "see" and read data on optical discs. These discs include CDs and DVDs, which are made up of millions of small bumps and dips. Optical drives have lasers that read these bumps and dips as ones and zeros, which the computer can understand.
Some common types of optical drives include CD-ROM, CD-RW, DVD-ROM, DVD-RW, and Blu-ray drives. CD and DVD writers, such as CD-R and DVD-R drives use a laser to both read and write data on the discs. The laser used for writing the data is much more powerful than the laser that reads the data, as it "burns" the bumps and dips into the disc. While optical drives can spin discs at very high speeds, they are still significantly slower than hard drives, which store data magnetically. However, because optical media is inexpensive and removable, it is the most common format used for distributing computer software.
PCI Card
These are the easiest way to upgrade your PC without buying a new motherboard. PCI cards are small, separate circuit boards that you can install onto your current motherboard. The most common types of PCI cards include video, audio, and modem cards.

Some more popular types of PCI cards on the market include:

PCI fire wire card - a firewire card allows faster data transfers between multiple PC's or you PC and other peripherals.

PCI USB2 card - A USB 2.0 PCI card allows you to utilize the faster speeds of USB version 2.0 without upgrading motherboards.

Video 4-input pci card - These are great for home security systems. They allow multiple video inputs.

TV Tuner- Watch television on your computer!

Computer cabinets
Computer cabinets are fitted with doors and side panels (which may or may not be removable). Cabinets enclose a rack, which is a frame that provides a means for mounting electronic equipment. Cabinets come in a variety of styles, colors, and many contain baffles, fans, and other features. [Adapted from The Sun Site Planning Guide for Entry-Level Servers].
The terms rack and cabinet are often used interchangeably, which is incorrect. The rack refers specifically to the frame that provides a means for mounting electronic equipment, while a cabinet is fitted with doors and side panels.
MONITOR
The term "monitor" is often used synonymously with "computer screen" or "display." The monitor displays the computer's user interface and open programs, allowing the user to interact with the computer, typically using the keyboard and mouse.
Older computer monitors were built using cathode ray tubes (CRTs), which made them rather heavy and caused them to take up a lot of desk space. Most modern monitors are built using LCD technology and are commonly referred to as flat screen displays. These thin monitors take up much less space than the older CRT displays. This means people with LCD monitors have more desk space to clutter up with stacks of papers, pens, and other objects.


SPEAKERS
Speakers are one of the most common output devices used with computer systems. Some speakers are designed to work specifically with computers, while others can be hooked up to any type of sound system. Regardless of their design, the purpose of speakers is to produce audio output that can be heard by the listener.
SMPS
A switched-mode power supply (switching-mode power supply, SMPS, or simply switcher) is an electronic power supply that incorporates a switching regulator in order to be highly efficient in the conversion of electrical power. Like other types of power supplies, an SMPS transfers power from a source like the electrical power grid to a load (e.g., a personal computer) while converting voltage and current characteristics. An SMPS is usually employed to efficiently provide a regulated output voltage, typically at a level different from the input voltage

GRAPHICS CARD
A graphics card is a device installed in a computer that consists of a graphics processing unit designed to help process and display images, especially 3D graphics. Graphics cards help take the processing strain off the main processor, and can contain their own memory to take the strain off the system RAM.
Onboard Cards
Onboard or integrated graphics cards are built into a computer's motherboard and are typically less powerful than cards installed in an expansion bay.
Dedicated Cards
Dedicated cards are graphics cards that are installed in PCI express, AGP, PCI, or other expansion bays, and have their own video memory separate from the system's main RAM.
Power Draw
High-end dedicated video cards tend to draw a lot of power from the power supply and may even require an extra power cable to hook up directly to the card.
PRINTER
In computers, a printer is a device that accepts text and graphic output from a computer and transfers the information to paper, usually to standard size sheets of paper. Printers are sometimes sold with computers, but more frequently are purchased separately. Printers vary in size, speed, sophistication, and cost. In general, more expensive printers are used for higher-resolution color printing.
Personal computer printers can be distinguished as impact or non-impact printers. Early impact printers worked something like an automatic typewriter, with a key striking an inked impression on paper for each printed character . The dot-matrix printer was a popular low-cost personal computer printer. It's an impact printer that strikes the paper a line at a time. The best-known non-impact printers are the inkjet printer, of which several makes of low-cost color printers are an example, and the laser printer . The inkjet sprays ink from an ink cartridge at very close range to the paper as it rolls by. The laser printer uses a laser beam reflected from a mirror to attract ink (called toner ) to selected paper areas as a sheet rolls over a drum.
KEY BOARD
As the name implies, a keyboard is basically a board of keys. Along with the mouse, the keyboard is one of the primary input devices used with a computer. The keyboard's design comes from the original typewriter keyboards, which arranged letters and numbers in a way that prevented the type-bars from getting jammed when typing quickly. This keyboard layout is known as the QWERTY design, which gets its name from the first six letters across in the upper-left-hand corner of the keyboard.

While the design of computer keyboards may have come from typewriters, today's keyboards have many other keys as well. Modifier keys, such as Control, Alt/Option, and Command (Mac) or the Windows key (Windows) can be used in conjunction with other keys as "shortcuts" to perform certain operations. For example, pressing Command-S (Mac), or Control-S (Windows) typically saves a document or project you are working on. Most of today's computer keyboards also have a row of function keys (F1 through F16) along the top of the keyboard, arrow keys arranged in an upside-down T, and a numeric keypad on the right-hand side. Some keyboards have even more buttons, allowing you to change the system volume, eject a CD, or open programs such as your e-mail or Web browser.
MOUSE
While most people don't want to see a mouse running around in their home, they typically don't have a problem seeing one sitting by their computer. This is because, along with the keyboard, the mouse is one of the primary input devices used with today's computers. The name comes from the small shape of the mouse, which you can move quickly back and forth on the mouse pad, and the cord, which represents the mouse's tail. Of course, if you are using a wireless mouse, the analogy does not work so well.

All mice have at least one button, though most mice have two or three. Some also have additional buttons on the sides, which can be assigned to different commands. Most mice also have a scroll-wheel, which lets you scroll up and down documents and Web pages by just rolling the wheel with your index finger.

Early mice tracked movement using a ball in the bottom of the mouse. This "mouse ball" pushed against different rollers as it moved, measuring the mouse's speed and direction. However, now most mice use optical technology, which uses a beam of light to track the mouse's motion. Optical mice are more accurate than roller-based mice and they have the added bonus of not getting dirty inside.
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