Computer Components: How Your Computer Works

Computer component options have come a long way from the original Z1 invention, built in the living room of a curious and genius German scientist.

While the first binary computing device would have computer components that seem alien to the modern-day tech-enthusiast, the groundwork of computer technology rests on the shoulders of those original computer-pioneers.

Admittedly, computer technology has boomed in more modern times. However, the basics of computer components and their relationship with the motherboard have mainly remained the same. Rest assured, after learning the underlying dynamics of computer components; you’ll feel confident enough to build one yourself.

How A Computer Works

Whether you’re researching computer components in hopes of building your own machine or you simply want to understand them better, the first step is knowing the basics.

Essentially, the first and most important component is the motherboard. This can be thought of as the central nervous system of the machine. From there, the central processing unit (CPU), storage and random access memory directly connect to it through slots or cables that plug straight into the circuitry.

All of these computer components will then fit inside of the case. Finally, the rest of your peripherals, such as a keyboard, mouse, and display, connect directly into the ports of the case.

The Computer Components That Make Your PC Work

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So, what role do all of these computer components play in making my machine run? Let’s find out.


As mentioned, the motherboard is the central nervous system. Its primary role is to connect all computer components and for them to function and interact.

The motherboard frame is built out of non-conductive materials such as plastic, which then have thin traces which serve as the connective circuits to all of the other components.

Each of the other computer components will connect to the motherboard either by PCI-express slots or direct connectors on the motherboard itself.

Central Processing Unit (CPU)

The CPU is the brain of your computer. This is the computer component that performs calculations and enables your computer to perform both simple and advanced functions.

The CPU slots into the motherboard using a specific mounting mechanism. People building their own computer will need to ensure that their CPU is compatible with their motherboard.

The processor is one of the smallest computer components. However, it can generate the most heat due to high energy demands. Because of this, the computer needs either a conventional or custom cooling system to prevent overheating. These exist in basic fan-format and sophisticated liquid cooling apparatuses.

Power Supply Unit (PSU)

Without power, your computer won’t be able to run. Another crucial part of any computer build is the power supply unit, also known as a PSU.

The power supply converts your regular household AC to low-voltage regulated DC power. The power supply connects to the circuitry of the motherboard, which then transfers and regulates power demands to the different computer components.

Tech enthusiasts building their own computers will need to calculate the combined power demand of their CPU, graphics card, and other computer components to have everything in working check.

Hard Drive Or Solid-State Drive Storage Devices

To store files, your operating system, and other essential data, you will need a storage device. This is internal storage which sits inside the computer case and connects directly to the motherboard.

Storage devices are available in either hard disk drive (HDD) or solid-state drive (SSD) format. Hard drives use a spinning disk to store data, have larger storage capacities and are cheaper than SSD’s. However, SSD’s typically have much faster read and write speeds and are much more durable due to the lack of moving components.

If you’re trying to get the best bang for your buck, then a good suggestion would be to buy both an SSD and an HDD. The computer will run the operating system from the SSD and uses the HDD for regular files. This will ensure top speeds and security for the critical data, while still allowing enough space for all of your media and documents.

Random-Access Memory (RAM)

Computer fans usually like to boast about the size of their RAM. But what really is it?

Random-access memory is a unique method of storing data that your operating system will use to store working data and code. The more RAM installed in the computer, the more complex tasks your computer can handle at any given moment.

RAM comes in a stick format, which inserts directly into a specific slot on the motherboard. It’s possible to arrange RAM in either one, two, or four-channel configurations. This will depend on the motherboard.

Graphics Cards And PCI-Express Cards

With all of the above computer components correctly installed and configured correctly, your PC should run perfectly. But, what if you want to play the latest games or render sophisticated graphics software?

In modern computers, you’ll typically find a graphics card or GPU. This is another processor designed to compute large and complex code which renders high-quality graphics. These processors come in a card format and slot into what is known as a PCI-express lane on the motherboard.

While there are many more PCI-express expansion components such as WiFi cards or sound cards, the GPU is the most commonly found component. This is because modern motherboards and CPUs have made many expansion components redundant.

Optical Drives

Although not as common in modern computers, some people still want the ability to read CDs and DVDs. An optical drive is installed internally and connected to both the power supply and the motherboard.

However, USBs, external drives, and cloud computing have largely replaced the need for these drives. In essence, you won’t typically find a modern-built computer with an optical drive in 2019.

Beyond Computer Components

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So, think you’ve got all of the computer components down-pat? While having the best computer hardware on the market will surely help you flex your tech-rep, understanding software and firmware is another crucial element of computer knowledge. Remember to install the best software and firmware as recommended by the hardware manufacturers.

Have you had any computer building experience? Feel free to share your stories or ask any questions in the section below.

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