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Whether you’re buying a new computer or building your own, you’re going to be subjected to a lot of acronyms and random numbers. It can be hard to cut through the cruft and get to the meaningful information. This article is here to help.

I’m going to dive into every major component inside a modern computer. I’ll explain what it does, its history, the important specs you need to understand and who the major players are.

You’ll learn what you need to consider when you’re buying one — whether as part of a computer, or as a separate component.

So without further ado, let’s get started.

What's Inside Your Computer: The Story Of Every Component You Need To Know

CPU

A (Very) Brief History of CPUs

You’ll often see people describe the Central Processing Unit (CPU) as the brain of a computer. They’re wrong; the CPU isn’t the computer’s brain — it is the computer in the most literal sense of the word. It is the component that does the computing.

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Every command you send to your computer — whether it’s a key press, a mouse click or a complicated command line instruction — is converted into binary and sent to the CPU to be dealt with. The CPU performs a series of simple mathematical operations that when done thousands of times per second can produce staggeringly complicated results. The CPU then issues its own commands to the operating system which may be as simple as “add the letter K where the input is” or “select the file the mouse is hovering over” or as complex as “solve Pi”.

While the development of the CPU has roots that go back to the abacus — a device first used more than a thousand years BCE — the dawn of modern personal computing starts with the 1978 release of one of the first commercially available 16-bit chips: the Intel 8086 microprocessor. The 8086’s successor, the 8088 was selected for use in the first IBM PC. The 8086’s legacy is felt today, any command written for an 8086 has an equivalent on any modern Intel chip and can still — in theory — be run.

8086

On a CPU, there are billions of transistors: tiny silicon circuits capable of switching or amplifying an electrical signal. These form the basis of everything the CPU does. Through the work of thousands of intelligent scientists and engineers, this network of microscopic electronics gives rise to the operating system and web browser you are using to view this post. The power of a CPU is roughly dependant on the number of transistors in its circuit.

Moore’s Law What Is Moore's Law, And What Does It Have To Do With You? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is Moore's Law, And What Does It Have To Do With You? [MakeUseOf Explains] Bad luck has nothing to do with Moore's Law. If that is the association you had, you are confusing it with Murphy's Law. However, you were not far off because Moore's Law and Murphy's Law... Read More , which has held roughly true since the 1970s, was formulated by Gordon E. Moore, one of Intel’s cofounders. It states that the number of transistors per square inch of circuit space will double every two years. This is why the CPU in your computer today is more powerful than an original Intel 8086.

Regardless of that difference in power — and it is a huge difference — there is a clear line from the 8086 through the various Pentium chips to the Core i Series that Intel sells today. The 8086 was the chip that led to the computer as we know it.

CPU Size: The Vital Stats

Laptop manufacturers don’t advertise their wares by telling you how many transistors are on the CPU. Instead, they talk about clock speed, how many cores it has and what model of CPU it is. There are also a couple of less discussed technical specs that matter. It used to be simple to compare CPUs: bigger numbers equals better performance. That’s no longer the case. Now you have to consider a couple of different things.

The most common CPU specification is clock speed. It’s simply a measure of how many operations a CPU can make per second. All else being equal, bigger is better. The problem is that all else is rarely equal.

The biggest CPU development in the past decade has been the proliferation of affordable multi-core CPUs. A multi-core CPU has multiple processors on a single chip. A dual-core has two processors, a quad-core has four and so on. It makes intuitive sense that more cores equals more power and that is true for some tasks; for others it isn’t.

The advantage of a multi-core CPU is that it allows tasks to be done in parallel. If the task you’re doing on your computer is something like video encoding which can easily be parallelised, the more cores the better. Each processor can work on rendering a single frame at a time and combine them all at the end. A quad-core won’t be four times faster than a single-core CPU because nothing with microprocessors is ever as simple as it would seem, but it will be significantly faster. However, parallelising tasks introduces a lot of extra work for software developers. Tasks that are harder for developers to parallelise — like the computations underlying computer games — often don’t see many benefit from multi-core CPUs.

cpu

Depending on what you’re trying to do, a $300 dual-core processor can be as fast, if not faster, than a $500 quad-core. If you’re buying a computer, think carefully about what you’re using it for before you spend a few hundred dollars on extra cores that you will never benefit from.

While model names are just a label given by the manufacturer, they can reveal a lot about the extra features a CPU comes with. For example, a huge part of the difference between Intel’s mid- and high-end CPUs is the cache size. The cache is memory on the CPU where it can store instructions. The CPU can pull instructions from cache far faster than it can from anywhere else so the bigger the cache, the better.

Major Players

Intel isn’t the only company producing CPUs though it is the largest. Advanced Micro Devices — better known as AMD — and VIA Technologies also produce x86 CPUs. In the early 2000s, AMD’s chips were actually superior to Intel’s, however, that changed with the Core i series.

For other devices like smartphones, the CPU is normally integrated with some of the other components on a single chip. Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Samsung are some of the many large manufacturers of system-on-a-chip devices.

CPUs At A Glance

The CPU is the bit of the computer that does the actual computing. While it used to be easy to pick the best CPU — go for the one with the biggest numbers! — the rise of multi-core processing has changed that. In general, the higher the clock speed, the faster a CPU is and the easier a task can be parallelised, the greater the advantage of multi-core CPUs. Even when two CPUs have very similar clock speeds and the same number of cores, there are other factors at play. Cache size is one of the most important and is often the differentiating factor between mid- and high-end CPUs. Again, bigger is better.

Motherboard

Let Me Introduce You To My Motherboard

If you’re building your own computer, the motherboard will be one of the most important components you’ll choose. If you’re buying one, it won’t even be listed on the spec sheet. The motherboard is the printed circuit board (PCB) that connects all the other components together. It also has a lot of the additional ports and connectors — like USB, I/O ports and HDMI in many cases — that are common to every computer.

Before the microprocessor, the idea that a computer would fit on a single PCB was laughable. They were just too big with too many different parts. With the microprocessor, it became possible for an entire computer to be housed inside a small case. All the components would be connected using a singled PCB. The modern motherboard logically evolved out of these early PCBs.

Yo Motherboard So Much Spec

Motherboards don’t have a major direct effect on performance. They are the linkage that lets the other components do the work. However, they do determine what components you can include in your computer, and therefore indirectly affect its performance.

Motherboards come in a number of different sizes with cases to match. Most are designed off the ATX standard. The smallest motherboard commonly available is the 170 mm x 170 mm mini-ITX and the largest is the 356 mm x 425 mm Workstation ATX. There are various sizes in between.

motherboard

The larger the motherboard, the more ports it will have. If you are trying to build an extremely powerful computer, you will need more ports to connect multiple video cards, terabytes of storage and countless sticks of RAM. If you are just building a home theatre PC DIY Budget HTPC Media Center Build and Giveaway DIY Budget HTPC Media Center Build and Giveaway We built a sub-$400 yet energy-efficient HTPC media center running Ubuntu. Now, we're giving it away. Read More , you can get away with a far smaller motherboard and far fewer additional components.

Most motherboards have a number of standard internal ports. There’s always a CPU socket, RAM slots and ports for connecting cables to storage drives. All but the smallest motherboards have Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) slots.

PCIe slots come in a few variations that allow you to connect different peripherals. Video cards, wireless cards and any other internal expansion normally connects to a PCIe slot. There are different sizes of PCIe slots that offer a different number of connections to the CPU. The larger the slot, the more information the peripheral can send and receive per second.

The four sizes are x1, x4, x8 and x16. The number represents the number of connections, or lanes. Powerful video cards will need a PCIe x16 slot while a wireless card will only need an x4 or even an x1 slot.

motherboard2

Motherboards also provide external ports. USB, audio and video I/O, Ethernet and various other connections are all standard.

If you’re buying a motherboard, you’ll need to select one based on its compatibility with the CPU you want to use, how big you want your computer to be and how much expandability you need it to have. Different motherboards support different CPUs. For example, an Intel CPU won’t work on a motherboard that supports AMD CPUs. Between size and expandability there’s normally a balance to be found. For example, if you plan on using two video cards in parallel, you will need a minimum of two PCIe x16 and that decision instantly eliminates almost any motherboard smaller than a standard ATX board.

If you’re buying a fully-built computer, all the features of the motherboard will be listed in the computer’s overall spec.

Major Players

The major consumer motherboard manufacturers are ASUS and Gigabyte Technology. Both make motherboards for Intel and AMD CPUs in a variety of sizes with different port combinations. If you need something for a powerful gaming PC or a HTPC, either company will be able to provide it. Major manufacturers of fully built computers often make their own motherboards to connect their components.

Motherboards At A Glance

If you’re building a computer, the motherboard matters. If you’re buying one, you won’t even know it exists. It is the PCB that links all your computer’s components to the CPU. There are different sizes available with different internal and external ports. A CPU socket, RAM slots and storage connections are all standard. PCIe slots come on all but the smallest boards. Choosing a motherboard involves selecting one that works with the CPU you want to use and has enough ports for all the other components you want to add.

RAM

Random and Confusing: An Introduction to Computer Memory

Random Access Memory (RAM) — often just referred to as memory — is where the CPU stores the things it’s operating on, or likely to be operating on soon. This is different to storage, like hard drives, where data is kept indefinitely.

The difference between memory and storage is mainly down to how data is accessed. On a physical hard drive, the speed that data can be retrieved at depends on where it is kept. Disks can only spin so fast and the reader arm has to move to different points. With RAM, all data can be read equally quickly no matter where it is actually stored. The other important difference is that RAM is volatile, data is only stored while there is power running through it. This is a limitation that hard drives don’t have.

RAM’s speed is what makes it so important. It can be a 100,000 times quicker for the CPU to access data held in RAM compared to retrieving it from a hard drive. When you are using an application, whatever you are working on is copied from the hard drive to RAM when you open it. Every time you or the application does something, the CPU pulls the information it needs about the file from the copy in RAM rather than the copy on the hard drive. When you save the file, it is copied back to the hard drive. This is why you lose files when your computer crashes — RAM can’t store information without a current passing through it.

If you run out of space in RAM, your computer slows down dramatically. The CPU has to fetch information from the much slower hard drives rather than from memory. Insufficient RAM is one of the main causes of computer slowdown.

No RAMbling: What The Stats Mean

RAM can be one of the most confusing components. Most listings on Amazon look like someone dropped a calculator in a bowl of alphabetti-spaghetti. It’s not as bad as it seems.

First, there’s RAM size which is measured in gigabytes. It is exactly what it looks like: a measure of how much stuff can be held in RAM. There’s always a gigabyte or two of RAM required for the operating system but anything extra is free to be used by any application that needs it. The more RAM, the better, although you are never likely to need the maximum your operating system can support. For the past few years, 8 GB of RAM has been the acceptable baseline. Most users won’t need more. If you do a lot of multimedia editing or gaming, 16 GB or 32 GB isn’t out of the question.

ram

In the past decade, there’ve been three generations of RAM: DDR, DDR2 and DDR3. At the time of writing, DDR3 is the current generation but DDR4 is coming along in the next few years. DDR stands for double data rate. Each generation has doubled the rate of data transfer of the previous one. Unless you have an old computer that you need to replace the RAM in, you shouldn’t even look at any anything that isn’t DDR3 (or if you’re reading this in 5 years’ time, DDR4).

Next, there is transfer speed. This is how fast the CPU can pull data from RAM. It’s typically measured in MHz, and limited by the motherboard. DDR3 RAM will normally have a speed of between 1066 and 2400 MHz. This represents the total transfer speed and not the actual memory clock speed. The RAM’s memory clock speed is normally between 133 MHz and 300 MHz; the apparent speed is far higher because of the compounded doubling of the data rate you get with later generations of DDR RAM. Like with the CPU, faster is better but there are other considerations.

Finally there’s the CL value which is a measure of the RAM’s latency. It represents the number of clock cycles it takes to return user requested data. The lower the CL number, the faster data is returned. With DDR3, it’s generally be between 6 and 16 clock cycles. CL values are typically correlated with transfer speed: the higher the transfer speed, the higher the latency. This makes it a trade off between overall RAM speed and RAM latency.

Major Players

There is a difference between the largest manufacturers of RAM and the most popular consumer facing companies. Samsung is the largest manufacturer but most of their output is bought by other manufacturers rather than regular consumers. Corsair, Kingston and Crucial are the largest consumer brands of RAM. There are also smaller manufacturers who make RAM especially for gaming like G.SKILL.

RAM At A Glance

RAM is where the CPU stores everything it is likely to work with soon. The files and applications are copied from storage to memory so they can be accessed quickly. Not enough RAM is one of the most common causes of computer slow down. Choosing RAM is easier than choosing a CPU. First, you need at least 8 gigabytes, more if you’re doing RAM intensive work. What RAM you choose matters a little less. The faster the RAM, the longer its latency. These two values roughly trade off. If you are building your own computer, see what RAM is recommended for how you plan on using it. If you are buying from a major computer manufacturer like Apple or Dell, their RAM will be almost certainly be perfectly adequate.

HDD/SSD

Spinning Over Storage

Hard disk drives (HDDs), and more recently solid state drives (SSDs), are the other side of the memory-storage system. They are the primary method of storing large volumes of digital data.

HDDs use a spinning magnetic disk to store binary data. An arm hovers over the disk and reads the polarity of the magnetic field. Changes in it correspond to binary ones, no changes to binary zeros. The first HDDs were developed by IBM in the 1950s. They were a cheaper replacement for earlier and slower forms of storage such as tapes. Early HDDs were massive: the housing of the IBM 350 RAMAC was the size of two refrigerators. It had a whopping 3.75 MB capacity.

ramac

Since then things have changed dramatically. The highest capacity HDDs available today can hold eight terabytes of data and fit inside any 3.5″ drive bay. SSDs have also started to become more prominent.

The first modern SSDs began to arrive in the early 1990’s. There’d been solid state technologies before that but they’d been closer to RAM than storage. Unlike RAM, SSDs hold data even when they don’t have a current running through them (read more about how SSDs work How Do Solid-State Drives Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] How Do Solid-State Drives Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] Over the past few decades, there has been a considerable amount of work in the field of computer hardware. While computer technology is constantly improving and evolving, rarely do we experience moments where we simply... Read More ). SSDs use an integrated circuit to store data rather than a magnetic disk. They’re significantly faster than HDDs because of it. The flip-side is that they are far more expensive and have lower capacities (here are a few of the best SSDs to buy right now 5 Of The Best 128GB & 256GB Solid State Drives To Buy Right Now 5 Of The Best 128GB & 256GB Solid State Drives To Buy Right Now This is a great time to pick up your first (or second, or third) SSD. The question is; which one? Read More ). Until the mid-2000s, they were only used in super high-end computers because regular users couldn’t afford the premium cost for what is a reasonable, but not exceptional, speed boost.

SSDs also have a number of other small advantages. They use less power and, because they don’t have moving parts, run silently without vibration. They also can’t have their data wiped by a large magnet. This is what makes them so suitable for phones and other mobile devices.

As the costs came down and the capacities went up, more and more manufacturers used them in their devices which further drove innovation and price decreases. For example, from 2007 on Apple have been the world’s largest purchaser of SSDs. Almost every device they make now comes with an SSD as standard.

Although they are becoming more common as the main storage device in high-end laptops, SSDs still haven’t replaced HDDs as the primary storage medium for most computers. Even though you can get one with a decent capacity for under $100, the high capacity SSDs are an order of magnitude more expensive than a comparable HDD. People who build their own computers often use both: a small SSD for the operating system and then a large HDD for file storage.

hdd

It’s even possible to get hybrid-drives. These are HDDs that have a small SSD built in. The most accessed files on the HDD get moved to the SSD so that they can benefit from the faster read speed.

Storage (Stat) Wars

For storage, the main stat that matters is capacity. Like with memory, it’s measured in gigabytes (GB) but larger drives will be measured in terabytes (TB). The bigger the drive is, the more it can hold.

HDDs also have spin speed. Most drives spin at either 5400 or 7200 revolutions per minute. The faster a drive spins, the faster data can be read from it — high performance drives can spin up to 15,000 RPM. At 7200 RPM, drives generally cost a small premium over slower drives of the same capacity.

Major Players

The majority of HDDs are produced by just three companies: Seagate, Western Digital and Toshiba. Between the three of them, they have acquired almost every other manufacturer. Even big name brands like Samsung have sold their hard drive divisions to one of the three.

The big manufacturers of SSDs are mainly the same with the addition of SanDisk, who have been making SD Cards for portable devices for years and the consumer RAM manufacturers, Crucial and Corsair.

Storage At A Glance

HDDs and SSDs are the main method of storing digital data. HDDs are used for capacity and SSDs for performance. It’s possible to combine both in one computer so as to maximise the benefits and minimise the weaknesses of both. With storage, you should get an SSD if the limited storage won’t be an issue. If you need the high capacity, then the decision is made for you unless you can afford a ridiculous premium.

GPU

First Look At GPUs

Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) are a specialised microprocessor. While a CPU may have four cores, a high-end GPU will have thousands. They were originally developed to output a graphical user interface (GUI) to a display — they’re designed to be extremely efficient at manipulating polygons — but now can be used to do a lot more because of their parallel design.

GPU come in two main types: integrated graphics and PCIe video cards. Integrated graphics, like the Intel HD Graphics line, are embedded in the CPU. Video cards on the other hand, tend to have a far larger GPU, with its own cooling and RAM, mounted on a PCIe card.

Arcade systems used early precursors of GPUs in the 1970s. Before GUIs became common in computers, CPUs were well up to the task of controlling the display. When all that there was on the screen was thirty words and a flashing cursor, there was no need for a separate microprocessor. As computer interfaces evolved and got more complex in the 1980s, it became more efficient to offload graphics to a specialised processor.

GPUs were especially important for tasks that involved rendering 3D objects. The first 3D add-on video cards emerged in the 1990s and were the forerunners of modern GPUs. They revolutionised what was possible with computers and created the digital effects and modern PC gaming industry.

videocard

In the past decade, there has been a push from GPU manufacturers for software developers to use their devices as a more general purpose processor. The parallel architecture of GPUs makes them far more efficient than CPUs at certain tasks. Cracking passwords and mining bitcoin How Can I Identify The Best GPUs For Bitcoin Mining? How Can I Identify The Best GPUs For Bitcoin Mining? Quite recently, I wrote an article revealing the disadvantages to Bitcoin mining. More precisely, a major disadvantage to the actual mining process is the cost vs. revenue battle, where you may be spending more money... Read More are two of the many things GPUs can do more efficiently than CPUs. By using the GPU to accelerate the most intensive work in any given program, the CPU can handle everything else and the entire system runs faster. More and more professional applications like Apple’s Final Cut Pro are beginning to support GPU acceleration.

Looking Sharp: GPU Specs

The most common GPU specs are the amount and kind of graphics RAM (GRAM) it has and — if you’re buying a GPU separately — the PCIe port it connects to. RAM is just as important for a GPU as it is for a CPU. Integrated graphics use the system RAM but dedicated GPUs come with their own. There are also different generations of GRAM. The current one is GDDR5 but you can still find some GDDR4 video cards around. GPUs aren’t as RAM intensive as CPUs. Unless you’re using your computer for playing the newest games or video editing, you’re unlikely to stress even a mid-range GPU. There’s no need to go overboard and spend thousands of dollars on a video card that you won’t benefit from. Even Intel’s integrated graphics can output at 1080p without even flinching.

The situation with PCIe ports is similar. The current generation is PCIe 3.0 and it’s twice as fast as its predecessor, PCIe 2.1. If you’re building your own computer, you should get a PCIe 3.0 card and a compatible motherboard. If you’re buying a pre-assembled computer, you won’t know what PCIe slot is being used.

Major Players

NVIDIA and AMD are the major discrete GPU producers while Intel is the leading integrated graphics manufacturer. NVIDIA and AMD sell their graphics chips to other manufacturers like ASUS or Gigabyte who mount them on graphics cards for sale to consumers.

GPUs At A Glance

The GPU is a specialised microprocessor with a parallel architecture. Originally designed just for outputting a GUI to a display, they are now used to accelerate other computations. GPUs can either be integrated with a CPU or mounted on a PCIe card. High-end GPUs far outstrip most users needs. The majority of people can get by with integrated graphics or a mid-range video card.

That’s Not All Folks

This article has only touched on the major computer components. There are all sorts of auxiliary parts like powers supply units, fans, water cooling systems, wireless cards and TV tuners that I haven’t mentioned.

Some of them, like the power supplies, are vital while others, like wireless cards, add extra functions that are nice but not essential. However, I haven’t skipped any common component that contributes to the computing — the actual number crunching that results in this web page being open on a screen in front of you.

Whether you are buying or building your own computer, I hope this article was useful.

Image Credits: Konstantin Lanzet, US Army Red River Arsenal Archive

  1. JNHUHUH
    February 3, 2016 at 9:32 am

    LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL

  2. JNHUHUH
    February 3, 2016 at 9:32 am

    MLKM;L

  3. Doc
    January 10, 2015 at 4:38 am

    "The 8086’s successor, the 8088 was selected for use in the first IBM PC." Incorrect; the 8088 was not the "successor" but a stripped-back version of the 8086, as the 8088 had an 8-bit bus (connection to the system), compared to the 8086's 16-bit bus. IBM selected it as a cost-saving measure over the 8086. (This is similar to the 80386SX and 80486SX being cheaper-cost alternatives to the 80386DX and 80486DX chips, respectively.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_8088

    "Motherboard ... connections will only support ... certain HDDs/SSDs." Partially true; all modern motherboards have at least 2 SATA (HDD and DVD/CD) and (most) still have IDE connectors. (mATX motherboards and smaller (SFF, ITX) will likely only have SATA; you'll need a cheap adapter to connect an IDE drive).

    "RAM – First, note that to use more than 3GB total of RAM, you need to install a 64 bit OS" Partially true; all motherboards have at least 256K-384K set aside for a system BIOS plus I/O space set aside in the first 1MB of RAM, and at least 8MB and as much as 512MB set aside for a video "frambuffer" if you have onboard video. Your mileage may vary - every motherboard is different - but you may see as much as 3.75GB, or even a little more, (available to Windows) of 4GB of memory with a 32-bit OS and a video card installed in a slot (which usually disables any onboard video). *Some* of that address space will be "mapped" so the CPU (Windows) can see your video card's memory, so you won't ever see *all* of it without a 64-bit OS.

  4. ICrashedmyscreen
    December 16, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    Thank you, this was great :) And I expect a sequel :D

    • Harry
      December 17, 2014 at 12:15 pm

      Hahhahah thank you! What do you want covered in a sequel!?

    • Jackson
      December 20, 2014 at 7:50 am

      Seconded ;)

  5. John Williams
    December 16, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    I would add that if you are building your own you should spread your budget to include a quality case and a seperate branded power supply.
    Cheap cases don't clear the heat properly, and have noisy fans - they also slice your fingers up when building due to rough edges.
    A cheap power supply is a false economy - it can damage the whole system if it breaks down suddenly.
    Finally, try to find cash for a branded CPU cooler. Stock coolers are OK, but your expensive superfast CPU will slow itself down for safety if it can't dump the heat.

    If you're buying ready built you'll always find a friend who knows more about PCs than the guy in the shop. Let's face it, if he really knew about computers he wouldn't be working in a store on minimum wage would he?

    • Harry
      December 17, 2014 at 12:15 pm

      All great points John. Though I've never built something with a powerful enough CPU that I needed more than the stock cooler.

      • big popa
        February 10, 2016 at 5:17 pm

        I love noahs big gig computer

        • big popa
          February 10, 2016 at 5:18 pm

          i find him so hot ;)

  6. Nathanael
    December 16, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    I love my Hybrid Drive so much. It works perfectly, quickly, and holds a ton more than an SSD for way cheaper.

    • Harry
      December 17, 2014 at 12:14 pm

      I haven't actually used one Nathanael. I've got a 250 gb SSD and a two terrabyte HDD in my Hackintosh and just manage the data manually.

  7. NRK
    December 15, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    Add up the power and multiply by 1.5 and round up to the next larger power supply.

    • Harry
      December 17, 2014 at 12:13 pm

      Good tip! I kind of cheat and use things like PC Part Picker though for that! (http://pcpartpicker.com/)

  8. DudesDad
    December 14, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Nice work, for a commie. j/k...the commie part, it is nice work. I like that you explain it and put it into terms people can actually use instead of just theory.

    • Harry
      December 17, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      Thanks! That was entirely the point of this article. I'm glad you feel I managed to pull it off. :) It's easy to jump on wikipedia and be bombarded with a lot of technical information. It's far harder to find something easy to read.

  9. bnjohanson
    December 14, 2014 at 11:50 am

    ....oh here we go.

    "a device first used more than a thousand years BCE"

    Of course he uses, "BCE". Well, all one has to do is look at his pic...

    • Harry
      December 14, 2014 at 4:47 pm

      Nice catch bnjohanson! I'm secretly a communist and I'm using MUO as my platform to warp the minds of everyone. That or I just prefer CE notation.

    • Matthew
      December 16, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      BCE is a very commonly used term.

      what is this supposed to mean? "...oh here we go."

      Not comfortable using standard language? BCE is used extensively in the world...oh that's right - it doesn't smack of Judo-Christian ethics. Or rather just Christian ethics because Jewish folks don't buy into the AD/BC routine at all...BCE IS the defacto standard. Sorry bnjohnson - Harry here used the correct terminology.

      And your reply was excellent! Along with the article. Thanks!

      Anno Domini (AD or A.D.) and Before Christ (BC) are constructs of the Roman Catholic Church anyway...

    • Harry
      December 17, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      Hahahhaha thanks Matthew. Glad you liked it!

  10. Hildy J
    December 13, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    A few additional points.

    CPU - Intel and AMD CPUs for personal computers are termed x86 compatible and they can run Windows or Linux. There are also cheaper CPUs like the Nvidia Tegra that powered the Surface RT that can only run specially designed OSs like Windows RT because they have a reduced set of possible instructions (RISC). Smartphones, iPads, Android tablets, and appliances (your microwave probably has a CPU) use the latter.

    Motherboard - Motherboards are very finicky. Their connections will only support certain CPUs (based on the CPU Socket), certain types and speeds of RAM, and certain HDDs/SSDs. If you're building a computer, you probably want to pick the motherboard last to support the components you have selected.

    RAM - First, note that to use more than 3GB total of RAM, you need to install a 64 bit OS (no big deal, just remember to select/download the right one - 32 bit is the wrong one). That said, in my experience, you're better off paying for more RAM than you are paying for faster RAM. If you can afford more and faster, make sure the fast RAM has heat disbursing shields and that your motherboard has room for them.

    Storage - For HDDs, you can also look at mean time between failures (MTBF). Enterprise grade drives are designed to last longer, on average. The type of drive to motherboard interface also influences speed (e.g. SATA2 transfers data at 3GB/sec. while SATA3 does it at 6GB/sec.). Speed and/or safety can also be enhanced by using multiple drives in a RAID array, if your motherboard supports it. As far as SSDs, the types of chips that are used to make them vary immensely, both in the speed of reads and writes and in the average number of writes that can be made before a bit fails. Some are barely better than a flash drive. It's too much to go into here but before you spend the monet, do your research.

    I hope this helps.

    • Harry
      December 14, 2014 at 4:49 pm

      Hi Hildy, yes I'm sure it will help! There's always a balance to be found when writing articles like this with explaining enough to be useful while not going overboard with technical details. I'd hope that most people buying components for their own use would look beyond this post alone but the comments are the perfect place for additional details and clarifications. Thanks for your input!

    • eric jay
      December 15, 2014 at 7:32 am

      yeah its worth mentioning about motherboard and their compatibility with the components

    • Jackson
      December 20, 2014 at 7:49 am

      Hi Hildy, thanks for the additional information. Just out of curiosity, what's your background?

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