Basic Computer Components

Desktop Computer Components

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The Computer Components of your Desktop

So you want to learn about computers?

Of course you do!

While there are different ways to go about it, we find it important to first understand the basic computer components before you just start it up and go.

Much like a toddler discovering the use of their new limbs, you too must discover the parts of your computer and their functionality.

In today’s day and age there are many different devices that can be classified under the computer family. However, in this article we will only be covering desktop computers.

We will start by identifying what may be the most essential part to a computer, the system unit.

The System Unit

Computer System Unit

What is the Computer System Unit?

The System unit, sometimes classified as the case, can be thought of much like the computer’s brain. The system unit is typically in a metal and plastic rectangular box that lays either flat on your desk, as a tower sitting next to your monitor, or under your desk. It consists of the CPU (central processing unit), which is used to process information, the RAM (random access memory), which is used to temporarily store information, as well as the hard drive, motherboard, power supply and more. Any hardware for the computer that is outside of the system unit is classified as being “peripheral.”


Computer Storage

Computer Disk Drives

Since the RAM only stores information for your computer while it is turned on, the computer must use disk drives to save your information for when the machine is off. The main disk drive that is used to store most of the information on your computer is the hard drive and it is also located in the system unit. This is where you can find the majority of the files and programs located on your device.

CD and DVD Drives

On the outside of the system unit on most computers there are also CD and DVD drives. CD drives can be used to run programs, play media files, or burn(to save data) information onto a CD. A DVD drive is similar to the CD drive in that it can read and write the information on a DVD.

Computer Power Cord?

Your power cord provides…you guessed it, the power to your computer! Without having this device plugged in your desktop computer will not function. The power cord is typically plugged into the back of the system unit and then plugged into a power outlet or power strip.


The Keyboard

Computer Keyboard

What is a Computer Keyboard?

The keyboard is an input device that acts as a communication tool between you and the computer. Much like a typewriter, the keyboard operates by pressing keys that then deliver information to your computer and appears on your monitor.  Below you can see a picture of the keyboard and how the keys are laid out. The keys on the top row are known as the function keys. To use these keys you first must hit the “fn” button and then what they do differs based on the operating system that is running on your computer.

The numbers on the row below the function keys can be used to input numbers or symbols. The arrow keys that are setup in a pyramid like fashion allow you to navigate the computer without the use of a mouse. The set of keys on the bottom right of the keyboard display numbers in a pad that is used to enter numbers more quickly and efficiently.

Types of Keyboards

Many different types wired, wireless, ergonomic, and multimedia

Wired and Wireless Keyboards

Just like the names entail the wired keyboard, which is what comes standard with most desktops, has a wire that plugs into the system unit. The wireless keyboard usually has a sensor that plugs into the USB port that picks up the signal for the keyboard allowing for it to still transfer information without the physical cord.

Ergonomic keyboards are used to help eliminate any strain or tension that you may experience while typing. To do this the keyboard is usually shaped at an angle to compensate for any reaching or unnatural movements that could be caused normally by regular keyboards.

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A multimedia keyboard functions the same as a standard keyboard however, it contains buttons for common processes like opening up a new web browser window. These keyboards are used to help make the keyboard more functional and user-friendly.

The Monitor

Computer Monitor

What is a Computer Monitor?

The monitor is the device that displays the content that you see in front of you in the form of text and graphics that are generated by your computer. Older computer monitors were known as CRT (cathode ray tube) displays that made them much larger than modern monitors.

Types of Computer Monitors

Today most computers use LCD (liquid crystal display) monitors that are flat-panel displays that are known for being more thin and lighter than traditional monitors. Instead of using ray tubes like the CRT, the LCD monitors use compact fluorescent tubes that result in a much clearer and brighter picture. Another type of modern monitor is the LED (light emitting display). This is a type of LCD monitor, but uses a backlighting technology to increase the clarity and brightness of the picture.


The Mouse

Computer Mouse

What is a Computer Mouse?

The mouse is a peripheral device connected to your system unit that acts as a pointer on your monitor allowing you to click and manipulate objects on your computer. On your mouse you typically have two buttons as well as a thin wheel or ball that sits in between those two buttons. The button on the left is the primary button where you click to select something on your screen. The button on the left, or the secondary button, is used to bring up other options when clicking on an object such as to copy and paste.

Types of Computer Mouse

There are two main types of a mouse that you will use, an optical mouse and a mechanical mouse. The biggest difference between the two is that the mechanical mouse has a rolling ball on the bottom for movement whereas the optical mouse uses an electronic eye (little red light).

Instead of using a mouse you may also use a trackball or a touchpad. Trackballs are typically found for older computers and are simply a ball that you can roll rather than use the mouse to move the pointer on your screen. The touchpad is a more modern version of the mouse that provides a similar experience using a pad that you can drag your finger across to move the pointer on the screen.


Other than the pieces of equipment above, there are typically other devices that can be found in most computer setups.


More Computer Components

The first component of a computer that you should at to your desk setup is a printer.


What is a Computer Printer?

Computer Printer

The printer simply takes the information from your computer and creates a physical copy of it. The printer can print text and pictures. Even more recently there has been an emergence of 3D printers that will be found more often as time goes on, but we won’t need to cover those here.

Types of Computer Printers

The two most common types of printers are inkjet and laser printers. How to the two differ technically right now isn’t important, but knowing the difference in what they produce is key. Laser printers are better at providing quality black and white products and print at a quicker pace than Inkjet printers. However, for color products, even though it may take longer, Inkjet printers are the way to go!


What are Computer Speakers?

Desktop computers typically come standard with two speakers to provide audio for your computer. In some computers the speakers are built-in and located in the system unit.  The speakers for a computer function just like speakers for a stereo and if they are external, plugin to the back of the system unit. If you like to watch DVDs, listen to music, or play games on your computer, a lot of people will trade out their stock speakers and upgrade to a better sound system for an overall better listening experience.


What is a Computer Modem?

The final device you need to know to cover your basic computer knowledge is the computer modem. This is the device that connects you to the internet typically over your phone line or cable. This is typically a separate device that will hook into your system unit, but some computers have basic modems built-in.


There you have it! Computer components made easy! Now you are one step closer to becoming a computer genius!

About the author

Computer Tutorials Staff