7 Critical Parts of a Computer – The Beginner’s Guide
Buckle up and prepare to expand your PC knowledge! With the world becoming increasingly digitalized and reliant on technology, having a reliable computer is a need and no longer a luxury.
While the numerous PC jargon might seem intimidating, you don’t have to be a computer scientist to stay relevant in this tech-savvy world. You can get a kick-start by understanding the major parts of a computer system.
You will be better equipped to build your dream gaming rig, upgrade different components, or make more informed purchases for the ideal PC or laptop for working from home.
Being familiar with the different parts of a computer system is critical to unlocking its full potential. The knowledge will also help with troubleshooting problems to upgrading different components.
So sit back, and grab a cup of Joe as we dive into the key parts of a computer system!
Table of Contents
What are the 7 Essential Parts of a Computer System?
The internal components of a computer system consist of the hardware connected to the motherboard, namely the CPU, the CPU cooler, the GPU, the RAM, the storage, and the PSU.
These electronic components are all housed internally in the computer case. They are needed to process data and connect the processor to other input devices and output devices, such as additional storage, displays, keyboards, headphones, and printers.
The computer’s motherboard, which connects all the other parts of a computer system, is its main circuit board. It can be considered the “backbone” of the computer.
Motherboard Form Factors
There are different form factors for a motherboard, and only particular motherboard models can fit into specific computer cases or chassis, particularly for customizable desktops. Advanced Technology Extended (ATX) and microATX are the two main varieties of motherboards (Micro-ATX). There are also variations of bigger (eATX) and smaller (mini-ITX) motherboards.
In contrast to MATX motherboards, which have a more compact design unless you’re building a small-sized PC, ATX motherboards are standard-sized motherboards. In addition to having a larger space and being more feature-rich, ATX motherboards also frequently cost more money.
Smaller and more affordable mATX motherboards typically have lesser features because of their smaller size. Whether you use ATX or mATX will impact the physical components that can be added and how far you can go in terms of programming power and memory capacity.
Importance of the Motherboard
The sort of CPU socket a motherboard features, the quantity of RAM slots, and the amount of storage connectors are all crucial factors to consider when selecting a motherboard. The quantity and type of expansion slots it contains, such as PCIe and M.2, should also be considered since these will affect the future additions you can make to your computer.
For laptop computers, specialized motherboards are utilized, with much of the built-in computer hardware permanently soldered onto their respective circuits due to the laptop’s compact frame and lighter construction. Only a few electronic components, such as the RAM and storage, may be changed.
When a motherboard fails, the PC stops working correctly. Given the complicated nature of the existing wiring and circuitry, a defective motherboard might immediately render your computer unusable and may even cause damage to different components.
Imagine this: You’re in the middle of a project, and your computer suddenly throws in the towel. You’re scratching your head, not realizing what went wrong – the motherboard, the command center of your PC, has gone rogue and taken down your entire computer system. It’s like having the captain abandon the ship. It does not matter even if you have an i9-12900H paired with an RTX 3080 Ti in a sleek Alienware computer case, you’re now stuck with a lifeless hunk of metal and plastic.
But don’t worry, if you have a desktop computer, you can get back in the game by replacing the motherboard. However, if you’re a laptop user, well, let’s just say you better start saving up for a brand-new ride because there’s no turning back from a laptop motherboard meltdown.
2. Central Processing Unit (CPU)
One of the main parts of a computer system is the CPU, or Central Processing Unit, which is frequently referred to as the computer’s “brain.”
The central processing unit controls all the data flow from input devices (keyboard, microphone, computer mouse) and ensures that all the components interact in a way that yields the required outcomes to output devices (speaker, display). It is also responsible for doing calculations in the arithmetic logic unit (ALU) and executing orders.
Consider the number of cores, threads, and clock speed when selecting a CPU. A CPU performs better with more cores and threads because it can handle more work concurrently.
The clock speed is expressed in GHz and shows how quickly the CPU can carry out instructions. Although the central processing unit can accomplish tasks faster with a higher clock speed, it will also use more power and produce more heat.
INTEL vs AMD
There are only two choices for manufacturers of CPUs: Intel Corp (INTC) or Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD). Both have advantages and disadvantages – AMD CPUs are generally less expensive and better for multitasking, while Intel CPUs are considered better for gaming and content creation.
Known for its dependable technology and high-performance processors, Intel has long been the industry leader in CPU production. Intel CPUs are the best for jobs like word processing, basic video editing, and online browsing. Popular options for desktop PCs include the Core i3, i5, and i7 CPUs from Intel.
On the other hand, AMD has made progress recently and is now a formidable rival to Intel in the CPU market. It is proving to be on par or better than Intel Core CPUs for gaming, especially with its new 3D V-Cache technology for Ryzen 7 and 9 7000 Series CPUs, which stacks a lot more L3 cache compared to Intel Core CPUs.
Because they provide comparable performance to Intel CPUs at a lower price, AMD CPUs are renowned for delivering exceptional value for money.
Currently, AMD is using the latest 7000 Series Processors for laptops and desktop computers which AMD claims to have 21% faster gaming compared to the older 5000 Series for Ryzen 5.
Choosing the right CPU
The tasks you’ll use your computer for should be considered when deciding between Intel and AMD CPUs. A lower-end CPU from either brand should be adequate if you only require a laptop computer for routine tasks like web browsing, word processing, and simple video editing.
However, if you intend to run demanding tasks like video editing, 3D modeling, or gaming, you should consider using a higher-end CPU like the Ryzen 7 7800X3D, which has 8 cores and a max boost clock of 4.2 GHz. The multiple cores allow for smooth multitasking, and it uses the latest 3D V-Cache technology, giving it a whopping 96MB of L3 cache, 3 times more than the 30MB of L3 cache for the Core i9-12900K CPU! That’s a lot of CPU memory that will prevent instructions bottlenecking in intensive games!
The ideal choice will ultimately depend on your unique demands and requirements. Intel CPUs are an excellent option if you want good performance and dependability, while AMD CPUs provide good value for money if you have a tight budget.
3. CPU Cooler
CPU coolers are essential components in ensuring the smooth functioning and longevity of your computer system. A CPU without a cooling system is like Batman without Alfred (or Robin).
A well-designed cooler will effectively dissipate heat generated by the central processing unit and prevent the computer system from overheating. There are several types of coolers available on the market, and the main ones are air coolers and AIO liquid coolers.
Air coolers are the most common types of coolers and are generally inexpensive. They are computer fans with a heatsink installed on top of a CPU’s IHS (integrated heat spreader) and dissipate heat through air circulation.
All personal computers come with stock low-profile CPU computer fans that often look cheap (because they are!), but you can easily replace them with a better air cooler system like a twin tower type or C-type air cooler.
AIO (All-in-One) Liquid Cooler
AIO liquid coolers are an improvement from air coolers and are more effective at controlling CPU temperatures. They dissipate heat by pumping water from the CPU block to a radiator through tubes, and fans cool down the radiator fins.
Let’s face it, if you play games, you’re getting an AIO liquid cooler not because you want a more effective cooling system, but because it looks so awesomely cool with all those tubes and RGB light, especially those that come with an LCD display that can show parameters like CPU temperatures and the pump speed.
4. Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)
The Graphics Processing Unit, or GPU, is a chip that renders images, videos, and animations on your computer screen.
The graphics processing unit is one of the main components of modern computers in addition to the CPU, albeit not essential for the computer to function properly.
Difference between a GPU and a Graphics Card
There is a substantial difference between a graphics card and a graphics processing unit, although users unknowingly use the two names interchangeably.
Just like a computer motherboard houses the CPU, a graphics card is an add-on board that houses a graphics processing unit. It also includes the PCB (printed circuit board), the memory setup, the heatsink, the output ports, the bus interface, and other design components.
Is a GPU necessary?
When it comes to high-end graphics, the GPU is the star of the show. It’s the X-factor, the secret sauce, the MVP. A gaming rig without a GPU is like a cheeseburger without the beef patty, the latest AAA games might as well look like Minecraft, and your video edits will look like they were made on a flip phone.
If you’re a casual computer user who only wants to stream Netflix and play the occasional lighthearted game, then the integrated graphics of most CPUs should be sufficient. But if you’re a gamer, video editor, or graphic designer looking to take your experience to the next level, then a beefy GPU is non-negotiable.
As the internet progresses and 4K videos become the norm, a powerful GPU is becoming increasingly important, even for everyday users who want a smooth, uninterrupted video streaming experience.
Nvidia vs. AMD
Nvidia and AMD are the two most popular GPU brands available today. They sell GPUs to companies like MSI, ZOTAC , and GIGABYTE that can customize the GPU chip, without modifying it, into a complete graphic card product.
Nvidia and AMD provide a wide selection of GPU models, from entry-level models ideal for recreational gaming to top-of-the-line models able to handle the newest games and programs at their highest settings.
The market leader, Nvidia GPUs, has the best performance and dependability. Nvidia’s GeForce GTX and RTX series of GPUs are well-liked options for gamers, while the Quadro series is appropriate for professional uses, including 3D rendering and video editing.
Choosing the right GPU
When choosing a GPU, the decision will boil down to your specific needs and priorities.
If you’re looking for a graphics processing unit that delivers both power and reliability, Nvidia GPUs are often the go-to choice. For instance, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 is known for its high performance and advanced features like Ray Tracing technology and DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling).
On the other hand, if you’re on a tight budget but still want a GPU that performs well, AMD GPUs are a great option to consider. For example, the AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT provides impressive performance for its price point.
So, depending on what you value more – performance or budget – an Nvidia or AMD GPU can be the ideal choice.
5. Random Access Memory (RAM)
RAM, sometimes called memory, is short for random access memory and is considered to be a form of volatile memory storage. The computer stores running applications, the operating system, and the data it is now processing in this short-term memory.
Your computer can run more programs simultaneously with less lag if it has more random access memory. When you have numerous apps open on your computer, it will start slowing down if you don’t have enough RAM. As a result, many individuals upgrade their computers’ RAM to increase performance.
The RAM is one of the essential parts of a computer system; hence it’s crucial to think about its speed and capacity while selecting it. For general computer use and internet browsing, we advise using 8GB of RAM, 16GB for spreadsheets and other office applications, and at least 32GB for gamers and multimedia producers.
About RAM Speed
How quickly the RAM can transfer data is determined by its speed, which is expressed in MHz. A faster speed allows the computer to access the RAM’s contents more quickly, which can increase performance.
Take note, you might notice your RAM running at 2133 MHZ in the task manager even though you are using a RAM rated at 3600 MHz. Don’t worry, you’re not being cheated by the seller, but rather, the RAM is running at its base speed and has to be overclocked to run at its rated speed. You can overlock the RAM by enabling its XMP profile (extreme memory profile) in the BIOS.
Different Types of RAM
The two primary variants of random access memory are DDR4 and DDR5. DDR4 is more prevalent and less expensive than DDR5, although DDR5 is quicker and more expensive.
In general, motherboards are designed to support just one kind of random access memory. Therefore, SDRAM, DDR, DDR2, DDR3, DDR4, or DDR5 memory cannot be mixed and matched on the same motherboard since they would not work. They might not fit in the same RAM slots.
Use the Crucial® tool to determine the best type of memory for your machine. These will provide options for your performance needs and price range, as well as information on which memory modules are compatible with your computer system.
6. Data Storage Devices
These can be primary or secondary storage devices that store data for future use even when the computer system is shut down. Data stored include computer software, files, images, audio, video, and operating systems.
Types of Data Storage Devices
Solid-state drives (SSD) and hard drives (HDD) are the two basic types of non-volatile storage devices for computer systems. They store data and serve as a boot drive to run the computer’s operating system. SSDs use flash memory instead of rotating disks, which hard drives use.
Although solid-state drives cost more and have less storage space, they are quicker and more dependable. Hard drives are slower and more prone to failure, but they are more affordable and have high storage capabilities.
Consider the capacity and speed of storage when making a decision. A bigger capacity drive can be something you want to think about if you intend to save a lot of huge files, such as videos or games. A 256GB SSD or a 1TB HDD is a fantastic place to start for a gaming PC or laptop to work from home.
How quickly the computer can read and write data is determined by the storage’s speed in GB/s. A quicker speed allows the computer to access data stored in the storage more quickly, enhancing performance.
PCIe NVMe vs. SATA AHCI
You’ll probably come across two alternative connection methods for SSDs: SATA III and PCIe. SSDs using PCIe are soon becoming the norm, but understanding the differences is still essential.
Many older SSDs and HDDs can be connected to the PC’s motherboard using the SATA III (Serial ATA) connector communicates with the motherboard through the AHCI protocol.
A recent technology, the NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) communication protocol, enables direct connection to the PCIe (peripheral component interconnect express) lanes on the motherboard, offering faster throughput and lower latency.
Significantly quicker than SATA III, PCIe 3.0 and 4.0 drives can transfer data at up to 7 gigabytes per second, with PCIe 4.0 devices having about twice the bandwidth of 3.0 drives.
Make sure your system supports NVMe before upgrading because some older motherboards and BIOSes may not.
There are two types of M.2 SSDs, SATA and NVMe-based. As the M.2 connectors are keyed differently for NVMe and SATA, the same sockets on the motherboard cannot accept both M.2 connections since they have different keys.
7. Power Supply Unit (PSU)
The power supply unit, sometimes known as the PSU, is in charge of supplying power to all the internal parts of a computer system. It changes the wall outlet’s AC electricity into DC power that the different components of a computer system can utilize.
PSU Form Factor
The form factor, which describes the device’s size, shape, and frequently other properties, is the most crucial distinguishing characteristic of computer power supplies. The power supply’s form factor must be compatible with the type of motherboard. Choosing a power supply unit with the appropriate connectors for the system is crucial.
- 20 or 24-pin Motherboard: motherboard power supply.
- 4/8-pin CPU: connect power to motherboards for CPUs.
- 6/8 pin (PCIe*/GPU): used to connect power to PCI express video cards,
- SATA Power: for devices using serial advanced technology attachment (SATA) interfaces, such as HDD.
- 4-pin Molex: connects to hard drives and CD ROM drives (rarely used now)
Types of PSU
The two primary power supply unit (PSU) designs for desktop PCs are ATX and SFX. Though ATX PSUs are bigger and more powerful, they are also frequently more expensive. Although SFX PSUs are more compact and affordable, they often have lower power.
Finding an ATX Standard PSU, which will fit any typical computer case and motherboard combination, is your best chance if you intend to build a home computer. A small form factor (SFX) PSU better suits the smaller computer.
Both wattage and efficiency should be considered when selecting a power supply unit. The typical wattage of a PSU ranges from 300W to over 1000W. A higher wattage indicates that the power supply unit (PSU) can deliver more power when needed.
Computer systems with powerful graphics cards installed, such as those used for gaming or graphics processing, would need greater power-rated PSUs.
And with that, you’re ready to put your newfound computer knowledge to the test! Whether you’re building your dream gaming rig, purchasing a work-from-home laptop, or looking to upgrade your current setup, understanding the essential parts of a computer system will help you make informed choices that will get the most out of your system.
We’re only scratching the surface about computer systems in this article, so don’t be afraid to delve deeper and become the computer whiz you were always meant to be!