PC Hardware Overview

There are a variety of computing devices such as tablets, laptops, smartphones; however, the bulk of my IT training still revolves around the powerful and ever useful Desktop PC. Before reviewing different types of PC hardware, watch (or just listen to) this excellent overview video from Christopher Barnatt of ExplainingComputers.com.

Mr Barnatt is one of my favorite nerds on the internet. Subscribe to his YouTube channel and look over his archives there for lots of useful computer instruction topics. He has a computing guide website too.

Inside the Desktop PC

The video mentions several items found inside of a desktop PC. Read on for a brief description of many of those items.


The motherboard is also known as the main circuit board or system board. The electronics that make the computer work are here along with various slots available to connect more adapters to extend the capabilities of the pc. Peripheral components will connect to ports on the front or back of the motherboard.

To enhance your learning, it is helpful to have a system available that you can open to see and feel the parts of a pc and to better understand how the parts all fit together. Check out flea markets for cheap systems or put the word out to family, friends, and coworkers that you will take their old systems! Many folks are happy to pass along an old pc.


The motherboard has a socket into which the central processing unit (CPU) is placed. The processor is where instructions are executed and calculations are performed. Basically, the CPU receives input and processes the information according to a set of instructions; the instruction set of a CPU determines what functions the CPU can process. CPU and motherboard must be correctly matched — not all CPUs will fit all motherboards.

Heatsink and Fan

All that processing power generates heat. When I open one of my desktop pcs, I can’t see the CPU as the heatsink and fan are on top of it. Those items are specifically designed to keep things cool. Thermal paste is applied to the CPU, with a heat sink then placed atop the CPU which draws away heat which is further dissipated by a fan atop the heat sink.


The CPU processing of information involves fetching data from temporary, volatile storage called random access memory (RAM). This memory is called volatile because the data stored there is lost when power to the pc is disconnected. Memory modules or memory sticks vary in capacity and fit into specific slots on a motherboard. You may see RAM referred to as “working memory”.

Storage Drive

Long term data storage (non-volatile storage), where data is kept even when the pc is powered off, is found on a computer’s hard disk drive (HDD). You will also see the term solid state drive (SSD) which is another component for long term storage. HDDs are older technology that involve spinning platters and a moving read/write head. SSDs are newer technology that are considered more durable. My newest pc system came with both an SSD and an HDD.

PCIe slots and adapters (expansion cards)

The functionality or performance of a pc may be extended by the use of various adapters which plug into the PCIe slots on the motherboard. One example of an adapter (also known as an expansion card) is a graphics card that may be used to enhance the video output quality of a pc.

Power Supply

A power supply unit (PSU) is essential to the pc and not just for carrying the electrical power in from a wall outlet. The PSU also converts the incoming AC power into DC power that a computer needs.

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