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Know your Computer Parts

Over the years, in speaking with all kinds of people, I have noticed a distinct disconnect in how people categorize computer parts. For instance, many people will refer to their “hard drive” as the entire computer. I have had people begin conversations with me with “My hard drive is not working correctly”. When digging a little bit and questioning them, they usually point to the computer tower and say “that is my hard drive”. The same mistake is made with “Memory”. Most people talk about their hard drive, but refer to it as “Memory”.

I thought I would spend some time on the basic components of a computer, what they are called, and what they do. Here goes:

Computer – the term is most often used to refer to the desktop and laptop computers that most people use. When referring to a desktop model, the term “computer” technically only refers to the computer itself — not the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Still, it is acceptable to refer to everything together as the computer.

Hard Drive – The hard drive is what stores all your data. It houses the hard disk, where all your files and folders are physically located. A typical hard drive is only slightly larger than your hand, yet can hold 100’s of GB of data. The data is stored on a stack of disks that are mounted inside a solid encasement. These disks spin extremely fast (typically at either 5400 up to 15,000 RPM) so that data can be accessed immediately from anywhere on the drive. The data is stored on the hard drive magnetically, so it stays on the drive even after the power supply is turned off. The term “hard drive” is actually short for “hard disk drive.” The term “hard disk” refers to the actual disks inside the drive. However, all three of these terms are usually seen as referring to the same thing — the place where your data is stored. Since I use the term “hard drive” most often, that is the correct one to use.

Memory – While memory can refer to any medium of data storage, it usually refers to RAM, or random access memory. When your computer boots up, it loads the operating system into its memory, or RAM. This allows your computer to access system functions, such as handling mouse clicks and keystrokes, since the event handlers are all loaded into RAM. Whenever you open a program, the interface and functions used by that program are also loaded into RAM. RAM is a very high-speed type of memory, which makes it ideal for storing active programs and system processes. It is different than hard disk space in that RAM is made up of physical memory chips, while hard disks are magnetic disks that spin inside a hard drive. Accessing RAM is much faster than accessing the hard disk because RAM access is based on electric charges, while the hard drive needs to seek the correct part of the disk before accessing data. However, all the information stored in RAM is erased when the computer’s power is turned off. The hard disk, on the other hand, stores data magnetically without requiring any electrical power.

These are the three parts of a computer that people usually mess up when talking about, so I will go no further. This was plenty for now. However, count on me to chime in now and then in the future on other technology terms.

Oh, and if you live in the Pacific Northwest. . . . .is this rain/snow/hail. . . .crappy weather we have been having, ever going to stop????

PS – I used the assistance of to compile some of the above information. Credit for intelligence needs to go where it is deserved.

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