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  Computer

Computer is never a stranger today. Everyday we talk about computer, access them, and we are directly or indirectly affected by them.

Even the missiles from US include computer to record geographic information, so that they can aim accurately.

Introduction

Computers comprise of hardware and software. Nowadays, computers do not work independently. Instead, they are connected through network. The largest network developed is called Internet, which is access from one side of the world to another side. The speed of access is the speed of electromagnetic wave minus the access time for the information.

Hardware

Hardware refer those parts that are visible and touchable. Normally there are grouped under the following categories :-

  • Processing Unit; most people refer to CPU
  • Input and output devices; examples of input devices are keyboard, mouse, microphone, and examples of output devices are monitor, speakers
  • Storage unit; examples are hard disk, CD-ROM, Zip drives
  • Peripherials; scanners, printers,

We will go through some common components in a normal Personal Computer (PC).


Motherboard

Motherboard serves as the base where all your components will be connected to. It holds all your cards and chips. It is just like the building with most basic features in your house.

Currently motherboards comes with a lot of built in components, such as IDE controllers. On the motherboard, there are expansion slots for the users to plug in their selected cards, such as sound card, modem card to provide their required functions.

The users shall determine the type of CPU before choosing a motherboard. Some motherboards only support certain type, or speed of CPU. Some motherboards support multiple CPUs while others, only one.


CPU

Most people describe CPU as the brain of a computer. It is responsible for all calculations, and thinking of computer. Instructions, and information are sent there for processing. Results are then sent out. CPU is actually a chip, or more technically called an Integerated Circuit (IC) that consists of millions of transitors.

At the moment, Intel is the leader in CPU manufacturing. Cyrix and AMD chips are great as well, but motherboard manufacturers seem to favour Intel. The MMX features of CPU improve multimedia performance by including more multimedia instructions. Intel has released the Pentium II, which is a Pentium Pro with MMX capabilities. Cyrix and AMD have released the 686MX and AMD-K6 respectively since then. These chips are MMX capable as well and are supposed to be just a teeny weeny bit slower than the Pentium II. But at such affordable prices (I think they're cheaper than Pentium MMX), they're really hard to pass by. For Pentium III has even higher clock speed.

Unfortunately, the CPU alone does not decide the speed of the computer. The bus comes into consideration as well. Sometimes, this may become a bottleneck and restrict the speed of your CPU. But generally, the faster the chip, the faster the machine.

As the chip has millions of transitors, large amount of heat will be generated during operation. A CPU cooling fan is thus essential to cool the CPU down. Sometimes, heat sink, made of aluminium is added to lower the temperature of the CPU.


RAM

RAM is a temporary store of information when computer is turned on. The full name is Random Access Memory. As the access of information from RAM is faster than from other peripheral devices, such as hard disk. The more RAM you have, the faster will be your computer in most of the time. There are different kinds of RAM, too.

SDRAM seems to be the fastest and is included in some high-end machines, but difficult to find in some places. DRAM is old and obsolete. EDO RAM is good as well and best of all, getting real cheap.

There are low-end motherboards that use 30-pin SIMMs, so be careful to get the right kind. Usually, it's the 72-pin SIMMs, they have to be installed in pairs. DIMMs are OK, but then again, some motherboards don't support them.   There are now 168-pin SIMMs that can be installed.


Cache

The cache is a very fast memory that stores what is just processed so that if you are to call it up again, it doesn't have to retrieve it all over again. This saves time. Nowadays, 256KB seems to be the minimum cache size. Get 512KB pipelined burst cache.  


BIOS

The latest stuff in BIOS is the flash ROM (Read Only Memory) installed on the motherboard that allows software upgrading of the BIOS. BIOS now supports bigger capacity hard disks as well. So don't go for old BIOS!

It is better to get the fastest CPU you can afford. Make sure your motherboard can hack it though. 32MB RAM should be the minimum you should be getting. A flash ROM and 512KB pipelined burst cache will also be desirable. Updated version of BIOS can be download from the manufacturer's site to flash through the ROM. 


Video Card

Video cards are very different from what they used to be. Initially, video cards are video cards, simple and sweet. They offer you as many colours as you have RAM on it (yes, you need memory on video cards as well), at higher resolutions. The speed of your card will then be decided by the type of memory you have on it as well as the chipset. Sounds easy, right? Good.

WRAM is supposed to be the fastest and is featured on the Matrox Millenium. VRAM is excellent as well. It is dual-ported so that your CPU and CRT (?) can access it simultaneously, unlike EDO RAM and the older DRAM. Of course, EDO RAM is faster than DRAM and is used on many cards at the moment. I've seen EDO VRAM advertised on some places as well. I don't know whether this even exists.

Did I tell you video cards are now different? Well, now you can get hardware MPEG as an add-on (even though many cards already support software MPEG) so that you can use VCDs on your computer, but I'd advise you to get a VCD player instead. Then you have the option of 3D capability as well for those 3D design tasks and games. Some cards can even be tuned to watch TV!


Sound Card

A sound card is a real pleasure to have. Most PCs are bundled with multimedia stuff these days.

You don't want to get those old 8-bit sound cards. I think they're gone for good anyway, but I could be wrong. 16-bit offers you stereo. And those equiped with wavetable synthesis are excellent. These babes are a far cry from those rusty FM types that mimic sounds by combining sound waves. Make sure your card supports General MIDI though. It's just a standard that decides how a sound is going to come out.

If you're a gamer, make sure you get a card that is Sound Blaster compatible because it's now the standard for games. On the other hand, if you're using it for other purposes, get a card that supports the software you are using.


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