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Knowledge is Power
Computers and laptops can be really intimidating at first glance; How does a computer or laptop work? What kind of parts are in them? These are the kinds of questions that come to mind for anyone approaching computers for the first time.
While there are many great services that help you set up and build computers, at GuruVerdict we believe that equipping yourself with knowledge about how computers work is incredibly beneficial. This information not only helps you appreciate how computers function, but you can also make more conscientious choices when selecting a new computer or laptop.
Do you need a new laptop to do your work? A computer powerful enough to play the latest games? You’ll know what sets these different types of computers apart when you get to the end of this read. Let’s take a look through all of the different parts that make a computer do its thing.
Computer and Laptop Processors
The Central Processing Unit (CPU) carries out instructions that the computer will carry out, effectively acting as the brain for your computer. Alongside the graphics card, the CPU is one of the most important components of any computer as it controls the speed at which your computer is able to complete tasks and run games or programs.
The main options available on the market are Intel and AMD and while their naming schemes can be confusing, they’re a little easier to grasp once you understand how they work. Intel is currently on its 11th generation and AMD’s Ryzen processor line is in its 5000 series. As you sequentially go through the names; 11600, 11700, 5600, 5700, the higher the number usually indicates the more cores and threads available to the processor allowing for the computer to handle multiple or higher intensity tasks. ‘
You may also notice the letters K following some Intel CPU names and X following AMD CPU names, for example 11900K or 5900X. These indicators mean that the CPU from manufacturing is slightly more powerful off the line. The performance benefit is usually only anywhere between 5-10% for a slight increase in price.
The rule of thumb for processors is that Intel is normally better for single core tasks like gaming, where the power of the strongest core in the CPU going as hard as it can will provide the best result. AMD on the other hand is best for multi-tasking and tasks that require a lot of processes running concurrently such as if you are streaming while playing a game or rendering a video in an editor.
The Computer Motherboard and Laptop Mainboard
A motherboard slots in and holds all the components that make a computer work, the body of the computer. While the motherboard does not have much of an impact on the performance of a computer and is not really something to be concerned with when it comes to laptops as most are designed by the manufacturer directly, there are a number of things to keep in mind when looking at motherboards.
I/O (input/output) is one of the most important things since that determines the types of connectivity your computer has. USB Type-C or thunderbolt ports are the new standard that allows you to do a large variety of things.
Thunderbolt ports can allow for ethernet connectivity, secondary displays, even provide power for a laptop with the correct connectors and dongles. These ports are also great if your computer is further away from you as you can use a dongle hub to connect the rest of your devices to the computer. SD and MicroSD card readers are also really nice to have ports if you have devices like tablets or digital cameras for offloading files and media.
On desktop motherboards, the types of things you’d be looking more for are the features offered after determining the chipset you need which is based on the processor you’re using. Built in Wi-Fi and bluetooth support is nice to have but not necessary since you can use a dongle or network card.
A good number of SATA ports is helpful if you plan on connecting a lot of storage to the computer. Other small nice to have features on motherboards are USB 3.0 connectors, a large number of fan headers if you want a large number of cooling fans in your computer and
Random Access Memory (RAM), is a type of memory that can access specific portions of data randomly, allowing for the simultaneous use of multiple bits of data regardless of their physical location in the system’s storage as long as the data is being actively used. In simpler terms, RAM controls data that your computer will be needing frequently and would take too long to pull from your hard drive storage. Textures and assets for videogames, cookies and cache for internet browsing; these are just some of the examples of processes that use your memory.
Cycling back to your motherboard, all modern computers today operate in what’s called dual-channel memory. This means that RAM sticks that populate 2 slots in different channels will be able to operate more quickly and efficiently than one RAM stick of the same cumulative size.
For example, 2 8GB sticks of RAM running in a dual-channel configuration will be faster than 1 16GB stick of RAM because both of the 8GB sticks can be used in parallel. This is most evident when you are trying to run multiple programs at the same time. The minimum configuration you want in any given computer is 2 sticks of 8GB memory for a total of 16GB. Below this point and you may find some tasks take slightly longer to load or complete.
When evaluating RAM, the main numbers to look at are its speed and clock timings (CAS Latently), signified by CL. For speed, the higher the better. Standard speeds that you can find today range anywhere between 3000-4000Mhz and AMD processors are able to take advantage of higher speeds. CAS Latency means the number of cycles it will take for the memory to return requested data so simply put, the lower the number the better.
Storage AKA Hard Drive Space
Storage comes in a number of forms and connection types, Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) and Solid State Drives (SSDs). Hard disk drives operate by spinning a metal plate and reading the data from the storage, usually coming in a 3.5” form factor. Solid State Drives offer the current fastest speeds and are much more rigid and reliable than HDDs. SSDs come in a 2.5” form factor as well as the smallest M.2 form factor which is mounted directly to the motherboard meaning no SATA or power cables are required.
Because SSDs offer so much of a speed improvement you always want to have your operating system and important programs installed on an SSD. HDDs are much more budget friendly and can be used for secondary programs and media storage. The cost of SSDs and M.2 SSDs coming down combined with their added ease of use benefits however will possibly soon make HDDs a thing of the past.
Integrated and Dedicated Graphics
There are 2 different types of graphics, integrated and dedicated. Integrated graphics is what you’ll find in a lot of less expensive laptops and computers as the CPU is responsible for handling both processing and graphics. Dedicated graphics means that there is a separate chip in the computer that handles graphical computing which is much more common.
Integrated graphics computers are usually meant for just web browsing, simple work tasks like word processing and in the most extreme cases very light gaming (think League of Legends). Because the processor is handling both processing and graphics, it means that performance can suffer all around when one side gets too overweight.
Dedicated graphics on the other hand ranges from simple entry level graphics cards to huge and bulky cards that can easily provide heating for your room on a cool night. Similarly to CPUs, graphics cards also have offerings from different manufacturers, this time Nvidia and AMD. While Nvidia has set the standard on the current market for graphics, AMD has been slowly catching up in performance, providing for more cost effective graphics cards in the meantime.
Names like the GTX-1080, RTX-2080, and RTX-3080 will probably be familiar to you in some form as these are the more common and popular graphics cards available for purchase. The more graphics processing power and graphics memory the card has, the more efficiently it will run both high end video games and graphics intensive tasks like video editing.
Computer and Laptop Power Delivery
Electrical supply and delivery is a very important part of a computer and is often overlooked. While not as relevant for laptops as they are powered by batteries, desktop computers have a number of things to look out for.
As laptops get more powerful, there is a tradeoff to make, do you take portability for less weight? Or do you take a heavier laptop with a longer lasting battery? Options are available for both camps on the market but more power means more can be done on the go or from a comfortable position.
Desktop users on the other hand ideally want a power supply that is 80+ certified which means it’s been evaluated for power efficiency and is built to last. The wattage for your power supply depends on what you’re using in your build. Most computers can get away with a 600W power supply. However if you’re looking to run a high end processor or graphics card like the RTX-3080 or 3090, you will definitely need a power supply in the 800-1000W range to be able to provide all the juice your graphics card needs.
While also not as necessary for laptops but can be helpful nonetheless, Uninterrupted Power Supplies (UPSs) are extremely important for computer operation as it allows your pc to keep operating in the event of a power failure allowing you to save any important work you may have been doing while also protecting the integrity of your computer parts which can degrade from sudden losses of power.
The More You Know
Now if anyone asks you, “How does a computer or laptop work?” you’ll be more than ready to answer! There are so many details in each individual part and new developments continue to make them more efficient and powerful. GuruVerdict is my way of sharing my interest in computers with others and I thank you for taking the time to read this article.
Hopefully you learned a thing or two and now the next time you look at a computer, you can say hey I know what this part does, maybe even begin to troubleshoot a system or two with your newfound knowledge.
Shopping for new computers and laptops is also now a lot less daunting and your decision making will be backed by factual information, getting you the most value for your dollar. Maybe you might even have become interested enough to approach building your own computer or upgrading your current laptop, the world of computers is large and there is a lot of be explored!