Computers have followed the path of the television in many ways, filling homes globally and immersing their owners in entertainment; but unlike the television sometimes remedying an issue can be much less difficult with even just a minor understanding of the components and their place within the machine.
Every PC will potentially have different inner components outside of those covered herein; however every actual PC does have some element of these components within its composition, performing the jobs as described in one fashion or another. In this article we will go over the key components of a PC and how they relate to workings within the human brain.
The Central Processing Unit (CPU)
To begin we will start with the pivotal core of the computer; the Central Processing Unit. The CPU is essentially the workhorse of the overall computer. While it may be true to say a computer is only as good as it's lowest end component, when the CPU is that lowest component there is no denying the latency it will bring. The CPU literally performs most of the high end calculations within a computer, contains registry commands that ultimately will work with all other elements in the computer. While the human brain actually contains multiple cortexes the CPU is arguably the cortex of the PC; though most decisions and actions a computer will take are based off of user input, the CPU performs the analytics and the handling of results from such human interactions. To put it simply in the form of an algebraic equation; (n+6=7) the 6 and even the resulting 7 are constants contained within the CPU whereas the 'n' would represent the human interaction. If the output or final digit were 8 the input or variable from human input would be surmised to be 2 as opposed to 1 from the equation given. While a very vague and simple example to use, the fact is the constants are what the CPU will work from and with to determine the outcomes being sought.
While the CPU is definitely a core component to a PC it is very rare that CPU will actually fail prior to other components in a system. In fact a failed CPU can even have the potential to take out other 'good' components due to its failure. If/when a CPU is failed or failing within a system, it's almost assured the motherboard is as well.
The motherboard (MB)
The motherboard is similar to the spinal column and nerve endings of the human being. It houses the CPU similar to the spine leading to the brain, and provides the delivery path for all components to and from the CPU. While not as common to fail as other components on a PC, it is not uncommon for older motherboards to suffer from duress of use ultimately leading to various problems in a computer that will eventually escalate to an overall failure of the unit. While not common to fail, motherboards can sometimes be the most difficult to isolate a problem to. Not unlike the CPU, when a motherboard fails it will typically take other components out with it; but not always. Typically a failed or failing motherboard will have random issues that may regularly take place during certain activities or completely random altogether. The easiest means of identifying a failed or failing motherboard will come from close inspection of the capacitors soldered to the board itself. While not all failed or failing motherboards will evidence through these, any motherboard with evidence of burst or bulging capacitors is definitely in a failing state and would be better replaced than trusted to not take out other components as it continues to worsen.
Most motherboards today will contain multiple pieces of hardware that were once connected to the motherboard as separate components such as; video cards, sound cards, and even network cards. Today's modern motherboards will typically include these within their manufacture; and not unlike the printer/fax/copier, or the DVD/VHS/TV combo devices, if one component begins to fail it is not long before the entire device will follow. That having been said, certainly a motherboard with a failing video card incorporated could potentially continue to function with an expansion bay video card installed to an available socket type, however that is no assurance of how much longer before the rest of the motherboard will fail possibly damaging the video card installed along with any other components. Symptomatic failures in a motherboard are no different than failures taking place within the nerves and spinal column of a human; while we may be able to continue functioning with them the sooner we see a doctor over them the greater the chances of stopping a greater hazard in the works.
The Hard Disk Drive (HDD)
The HDD of a computer is its local memory storage, from the HDD all data saved by the system and it's user are stored. This is literally the 'memory' most speak of when saying their computer is out of memory- their hard drive is full and has no more space available for data storage. While the HDD is a fairly common component to fail due to so many regularly used mechanisms and the volatile nature of several forms of data; it is not uncommon to be able to pull data from a failed or failing HDD. If a drive has failed it can sometimes be connected to a different working PC to then make the data accessible for recovery. Also due to the nature of how data is stored on a HDD, even data that has been erased can potentially be detected within the tables of data storage; what is known as the FAT, File Allocation Table. Sometimes deleted data can even be recovered through the records on the FAT so long as the physical location of the data has not been overwritten-however in most cases such data recovery can result in fairly high costs for retrieval. While many refer to the tower of a computer as the CPU or Hard Drive, the HDD is literally within that tower along with the other components described in this article. Newer drives on the market such as Solid State Drives (SSD) work under the same storage principles as a HDD but have no actual Disk for storing data, instead they store the data in a similar to data being handled within RAM. The Hard drive is similar to the stored memories and experiences within our brain; something of a local library filled with images, documents, and files stored when not actively in use on the computer from which they are housed.
Random Access Memory (RAM)
RAM is literally like the front lobe of the human brain, RAM is where data is kept while being manipulated in the present. Once finished being manipulated the computer will replicate the data from RAM back to the HDD for storage until called upon for further manipulation or changes. Like the front lobe of our brains, RAM is the right here-right now part of the computer. While upgrades to RAM can increase the capacity of data available for immediate handling, contrary to popular belief it will only increase the overall performance of a PC by a minimal amount. More RAM will help with internet browsing along with HDD preservation; since many operating systems will make swap files on the HDD to utilize more memory when the RAM is lacking. Typically RAM upgrades are the most commonly performed home-upgrades by PC owners. RAM is literally rectangular shaped microchip boards that clip into the motherboard. There are now several different socket types for RAM and in most cases the older style the socket type the more expensive the RAM can be for capacities from more modern desires. Sometimes the cost can prove so prohibitive for as minimal as the upgrade will actually provide; it can actually make more sense to look at upgrading more than just memory.
Memory failures are not uncommon, though less common than that of HDD's. Like HDD's they see a great deal of use, but unlike HDD's they contain no mechanisms only circuit paths and microchips. Some major manufacturers of RAM like Kingston™ even offer lifetime or longer than average warranties on their RAM products. While symptoms of failed RAM can be similar to other symptoms for different failing components, there are several diagnostic softwares available for testing RAM. The best of those will typically run from a bootable disk and check the RAM prior to any operating system loads. Contrary to what some may think, the disk checking done by windows checkdisk will not test or diagnose issues with RAM, only the HDD.
The Power Supply
Last but not least of the major components found in all PC's is the power supply. Power supplies will typically have multi-colored cables and connect to more than one component within the PC to supply them with power. Needless to say things such as power surges and outtages can result in the failure of a power supply. While surge suppressors can minimize this likelihood, the only real defense against as much would be a battery backup unit, also referred to as UPS's. Be aware however that UPS's typically only have certain plugs associated to the battery backup while the others are no different than using a surge suppressor (commonly referred to as surge protectors).
The power supply is probably the most commonly failed component on any PC. Failures of a power supply can have various symptoms and sometimes these symptoms will take place when a power supply is deficient in the capacity of power being required by the hardware of a computer.
The power supply is veritably the veins and bloodlines powering the entire computer. When not properly connected or deficient of required output the power supply can keep a computer from booting up at all. While other failed components can have similar symptoms, the power supply is more common to fail, but probably the easiest to test. Typically using a known good power supply either from another computer to verify it will correct the issue makes for a simple means of troubleshooting.
While not an extremely in depth look at the PC and some of its core components, this definitely provides a brief breakdown and description of the core components even the oldest and most modern computers today make use of. Some may share symptoms when failing, but all are required to keep the computer in the functioning manner we are all used to. Not unlike many of the machinations and creations humankind have developed, the workings of the PC are very similar to those of the device they were modeled to assist, the brain.