Introduction to Computers is an article for students new to computers.
We are living in an information age dependent upon digital information. Digital information is electronic information, the result of computer processing. Every type of job relies upon getting information, using it, managing it, and relaying information to others. Computers enable the efficient processing and storage of information.
Do not think of a computer merely as the machine with the keyboard and the mouse, although that might be true for some types of computers. Embedded computers may be inside your household appliances, the VCR, the automobile, planes, trains, powerplants, water purification plants, calculators, and even inside a few toys. These embedded computers are very small. They affect our lives each day. Why, even modern traffic lights operate with computers. They are all around us. Think of additional ways in which computers affect our lives each day.
The Four Operations of a Computer System
Home computers are microcomputers. Input is supplied to the microcomputer with the use of a keyboard, a mouse, or another input device. These input devices may be called peripheral devices.
Processing is done inside the computer in an area called the central processing unit (CPU). Processing is the conversion of input to output.
Storage refers to holding information somewhere.
RAM, Random Access Memory, is short-term memory. It is volatile memory because the memory is automatically "erased" when the power is turned off or interrupted. The RAM memory is located inside the computer case on the motherboard. A motherboard is not the keyboard. The keyboard is what you type with. A motherboard holds RAM memory, electronic circuits and other computer parts including the central processing unit. ROM, Read-Only-Memory, is not volatile meaning the memory is still there when power is interrupted or turned off. When the computer is turned back on again, ROM memory is still in storage on the internal hard disk.
Output is the result of a computer process. Output may be viewed on a monitor screen, heard through speakers, printed on printers, and so forth. Output devices may be considered hardware and are also considered to be peripheral devices.
A Basic Computer "System"
A computer system refers to the computer AND all of its equipment. Equipment like speakers, printer, keyboard, scanner, etc. is called peripheral equipment, sometimes shortened to "peripherals". The central processing unit (CPU) is considered to be "the computer". Without peripheral equipment (such as monitor, printer, speakers, etc.) for input and output the microcomputer (home computer) will not be able to do anything you find useful.
Your computer system cannot help you type a letter unless you have some type of software (program) to do this. Most typing is handled by a "word processing" program. A software program for your computer can be purchased at stores like Office Depot, Staples, and computer stores. Check your local telephone directory for a computer store in your area. Sometimes when you purchase a computer it already has a word processing program installed. If you buy a computer from a large electronics chain store, even if you have to travel out of town, you will get a better price as a rule than buying from a smaller chain store in town. Ask in town first, if they would be willing to match another store's Advertised price... See "Buying A Computer", next.
Buying A Computer
It is best to ask and to compare features before you buy a computer. The first question to ask yourself is, "What do I want a computer to do?" Do you need it only for e-mail and a little light letter writing or do you need it for graphics and Web page authoring? Will you also want extra storage for your music files or graphics files? Do you need any hardware for game playing? What type of Internet connection will you have: dialup, cable, DSL, or other broadband connection? Will you be needing a computer for school work? Accounting? Make a list of what you need the computer to do before you talk to anyone about purchasing a computer. Your needs will be different that those of the next person.