So you want to know more about the inner-workings of this very thing you are using to read this article on? If you answered yes, read on.
Most devices we use in our daily lives such as smartphones, smartwatches, laptops, and desktops all have common hardware inside. It is the utilization and physical build of the product that differs from device to device.
First, all electronic devices that can respond to an input (e.g. touch, key-press, etc.) have Central-Processing-Units (CPU) or more commonly known as the processor. This component has many pins to connect it with the motherboard (which will be discussed later on). It receives an input, computes, then ‘spits’ out the output. This is generally considered the ‘smart’ processor of a computer (there’s a ‘dumb’ one too)!
Next, we have the Graphics-Processing-Unit (GPU) also known as graphics card. This processing unit does exactly as it says – it renders the images we see on the screens of our device. Regarded as the ‘dumb’ processor, it is still essential because it can complete many computations at once – although these computations aren’t as ‘difficult’ as those reserved for the CPU. Gamers tend to ‘geek’ over this because the more power this is, the more performance they get when they game.
Third, the Random-Access-Memory (or RAM). This is what most people associate the ‘speed’ of their computer with: the more the better? Well, this is completely incorrect. Well, not completely incorrect; but there is only a certain amount of RAM necessary for certain tasks. Think of RAM as a the number of hands you have; the more hands the better? No, not really. Most of us only need two hands, it is only in rare circumstances that we find ourselves needing more hands. The amount of RAM is similar to the number of hands we have. Having 50 hands is excessive, just like have 128GB of RAM is excessive for most people. We don’t need that much. With more hands, or more RAM, we run into issues of energy consumption and cost. This ‘hands’ analogy can also be used to show the purpose of RAM: we use our hands to temporarily hold things. Let’s say we want to hold a notebook in one hand and a pencil in the other, then we write out a paragraph. Do we then continue to hold on the pencil and notebook forever? No, we don’t. We place the notebook and pencil down, possibly store it away. Hands can be described as ‘working memory’ – it is the information that the computer needs to hold for it to compute whatever task it needs to do.
Another component we need to store all of our information/data is the Hard-Disk-Drive (HDD) or Solid-State-Drive (SSD). These drives are used to store massive amounts of data for a longer period of time. You might ask, then what is the difference between RAM and these drives? Well, RAM is extremely fast, I mean much much faster than these drives, because we want to give the CPU as much information as it can handle to process as much information as possible don’t we? Then you might ask, why don’t we just use RAM to store everything? Well, RAM is expensive (for 16GB of RAM, it costs around $80 but a 1000GB drive will only cost $50) and volatile – meaning, once you turn off your computer, all the information stored on the RAM will ‘disappear’. In other words, you need a constant source of power to keep data on the RAM whereas the HDD/SSD doesn’t continuous need power.
Finally, to connect all these components together, we need a motherboard (hint: it’s the name of this website :D). The motherboard, or mainboard, acts as a bridge for all the components to talk together quickly and efficiently. It’s that simple!
However, it is important to note that all these components are now often all on a System-on-a-Chip (SoC) in smartphones and laptop because it reduces the overall footprint and allows the manufacturer to make a much smaller device.