Many offices today rely on computers as they are essential for an office to function properly; whether they’re being used for servers, by IT pros for admin, or just general day-to-day tasks. But what exactly makes a computer work? Let’s talk about the different components that go into a computer and just how they contribute to it working.
When talking about computers it can get rather technical very quickly, but don’t worry, we’ll be keeping it short and simple in this article.
Below is a list of the parts you would typically find in the average PC, along with what their purpose is in a computer:
Essentially a large printed circuit board, a motherboard is where all the hardware plugs in and communicates with each other. They come in multiple different types, designed for specific computers/uses. Some types of motherboards will only work with specific processors and memory, so be careful when buying parts as they might not be compatible with each other.
CPU (Central Processing Unit)
This is the core component of a computer, and functions as the brain that performs most of the processes. You might hear the term “multi-core” – this just means that it’s a single chipset with multiple CPUs contained inside it. You can also have computers with multiple CPUs, these are ideal for multitasking. There are several kinds which vary in price and performance depending of what they will be used for. An example is lower spec processors like Intel’s i3/i5 that are used for general browsing and office tasks while their Xeon processors are made for heavier workloads such as Web or E-mail servers.
RAM (Random Access Memory)
Made up of memory chips that allow for quick writes/rewrites, this is where data is stored by a computer before its processed. It’s a form of volatile memory, which means that data will only be stored as long as the chips are powered, if it loses power the data will be erased.
These are the cards that slot into the motherboard next to the CPU; there have been four generations so far, with each one superior to the last in terms of speed, performance, and memory size. The latest generation of RAM is DDR4 but DDR5 is expected to be released in late 2019. Like motherboards and CPUs, you should be careful when choosing what to buy – check which parts are compatible with each other.
When it comes to storage options there are several choices available based on what you require:
– Internal/External Hard Drives – This is the main type of storage you will usually find in a computer and can either be installed internally within a case, or externally in a caddy/hard case. They operate mechanically or magnetically and typically have a much higher capacity than other forms of storage (1TB is starting to become the standard for hard drives). They are non-volatile memory so they will keep all data stored even if the power is turned off. A major advantage of using hard drives is that with the rise of faster storage like SSDs, hard drive prices have become significantly cheaper than they previously were.
– Solid State Drives (SSDs) – While they have been around for decades, its only in recent years that SSDs have become fast and reliable enough to be viable for the consumer market. They are built with no moving parts at all, which makes them faster, more reliable, power efficient, and silent when running. There are newer types of SSDs available that can connect straight into your motherboard, allowing for incredibly fast read/write speeds, though they are understandably more costly than a traditional hard drive.
GPU (Graphical Processing Unit)
Often referred to as Graphics cards or video cards, GPUs are responsible for rendering images, video, and animations so that they can be displayed. Unlike CPUs which have a few cores for processing, GPUs have thousands of small cores designed for multitasking and performing quick maths calculations. GPUs are divided into two types; Integrated and Discrete.
– Integrated GPUs are built into a CPU and share processor memory. This can make them less effective as they don’t have dedicated memory to help them accomplish tasks, which can slow them down as they share memory with other processes being performed by the CPU.
– Discrete GPUs are built into their own dedicated card that slots into the motherboard, as well as their own dedicated memory for performing tasks. They offer much better performance than Integrated GPUs and if given the choice you should always choose Discrete GPUs. Low performing GPUs start around £100 but expect to pay up to £700 for the highest performing cards, however there are plenty of options in-between depending on your needs.
However your computer system is set up, cooling is an essential part that allows it to function. Without a cooling solution a PC would quickly overheat; at best it would simply shut itself down before any damage is done, at worst the CPU could be damaged if it overheats before shutting down.
The most basic cooling every PC comes with is case fans – at least one or two fans attached to the case that create airflow from front to back. You can buy additional fans to improve the airflow and cooling, for a relatively low cost. Another important feature for cooling is a CPU cooler, as without one the processor will overheat quickly. There are several options for a cooler; Air-cooled, Liquid-cooled, or an AIO (All-In-One).
– Air Coolers are primarily made up of a heatsink that is mounted onto the CPUs and has at least one fan attached. Basic air coolers usually come stock with CPUs and offer decent cooling, however if you need a computer to perform as efficiently as possible then it may be worth upgrading to a larger heatsink that can have one or more larger fans attached. Having a larger surface area means heat can be transferred and dispersed faster, allowing for better cooling.
– Liquid Cooling is a lot more complicated than air cooling, as it requires custom parts designed specifically for the PC you have. It is the best form of cooling that you can get for a computer, however the improved performance comes at a cost; liquid cooling is very complex to set up, it has the largest potential for error, and it is extremely expensive.
– AIO coolers are an excellent option if you want liquid cooling without the huge costs, and air cooling without worrying about large heatsinks and fans taking up space. Consisting of a radiator, fans, and combined pump, AIOs are incredibly easy to install and are nearly maintenance free. Technically a form of liquid cooling, it is a fully sealed and enclosed loop that can transfer heat straight from the CPU to a radiator attached to the case. AIOs come in many different sizes and configurations, which means you can set up cooling to meet your needs.
PSU (Power Supply Unit)
PSUs are what supplies a computer with its power, when choosing a power supply you first need to find how many watts all of the components in your PC will be using. Usually manufacturers will include that information with the product description on the box or website. After adding up the total watts your system will need you can choose a power supply based off that value, however the best practice is to buy a PSU rated slightly higher than what your system will use. By doing this you will give your system some headroom and allow for it to run without struggling for power consumption.
If your device is mission critical and needs to remain powered, you can go for a Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS). This is an external power supply that starts when it detects a loss of power from the source, and provides enough power for a user to save data being worked on and shut down the PC in their own time, instead of the system losing power and wiping any data being worked on. They can also block power surges that could potentially damage a computer.
As you can see, there are many parts that go into every computer build, and a wealth of options to choose from so you can configure the best setup for you or your team.
If you require any upgrades to your existing workstation or are even looking for a completely new computer, then please get in touch with a member of the team on 03453373838 to get a quote.