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List of Computer Hardware

written by: Rebecca Scudder•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 6/22/2010

This article of the series on Computers and Hardware and Terminology looks at the definitions of various parts of a computer which were not covered in the article on the basic or essential parts needed for a computer to run - that is, the hardware that more than makes a computer just function.

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    List of Computer Hardware

    Basic computer hardware can be found in most computers, whatever the size. They contain most of the same components. Here is a list of them, along with links to articles giving you more information about each one.

    Motherboard - holds the components of a computer, like the CPU(s), the fans, the heatsink, the RAM, and connections to other parts. There are motherboards in both laptops and desktops.

    CPU - Central Processing Unit, the part of the computer that carries out instructions from software; it executes commands.

    Display - the monitor or screen that allows you to see the actions of the computer, and provides a place to graphically interact with software and hardware.

    RAM - Random Access Memory, a short term way to keep information in the computer without writing it to the hard drive.

    Input Devices - anything thing which provides information to your computer.

    Hard Drive - an internal hard drives usually holds the operating system for the computer as well as the program files.

    Cases - these keep everything organized and protected.

    Power Supply - a very important component which lets everything else have the power to work.

    However, there are many other components that can be very important and useful to a computer, and we will look at those here.

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    Fans / Heat Sinks

    Computer components put out a lot of heat, although laptop components are engineered to put out less heat than desktop components. Fans are necessary to pull heat away from the internal parts. In laptops, the fan is usually mounted right on the motherboard. In a desktop, which usually has a much more spacious case, depending on the components used, there may be two, three or more fans, mounted front, back, at the sides, and even a fan above the components.

    It is always a bad idea to cover up the places on a computer where the fan exhausts. Laptops sometimes are set on a cooling pad or a small rack that has a fan mounted in it, to cool it additionally. Other parts are sometimes mounted on a metal block, a heat sink, which pulls heat from the component. Very large computers, such as server farms, mainframes, and supercomputers are often installed in temperature controlled rooms with air conditioning, to keep them at a constant temperature.

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    Ports and Connectors

    DVI-D vs DVI-I  Ports and connectors are limited to what the motherboard allows, unless you get some kind of expansion device. USB ports are usually on the front and back of personal computers, and on the sides and back of laptops. USB ports allow you to plug in a number of different gadgets and peripherals to your computer, ranging from an external hard drive to a USB powered lava lamp. They are also used to sync iPods and attach flash drives to your computer.
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    eSata and Firewire ports are also becoming more common, and allow faster transfer of information. Connectors are the way you attach other types of components to your computer, such as an additional display or speakers. Most computers have an extra VGA connector, and more and more are also having HDMI connectors. You can also find s-video connectors and component video connectors. Almost all computers also have connections for microphones and speakers or headphones- which often use the same connector. Different cables with various ends can go from one type of connector to another.

    Image from linked article on cables.

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    On the next page we briefly look at connectivity, expansion slots, web cameras, external or portable drive and graphics tablets.

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    List of Computer Hardware Including Expansion Slots, Web Cameras and Graphic TabletsOn page 2 of this article on computer hardware, we look at connectivity, Expansion slots, web cameras, external or portable drive and graphics tablets, with links to additional information on each of them..
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    Computers can work as isolated units, but it is nice to be able to communicate with nearby computers in a network, and almost everyone wants to be able to connect to the Internet at times. Computers connect wirelessly or - you guessed it- with wires

    In earlier computer history, communication between computers was handled either via cables or over modems- telephone connections. Ethernet cables are still a common way of connecting both to Local Area Networks (LAN) and to the Internet if you have a cable connection. Most personal computers have Ethernet connectors, which look like large telephone wire connections. Ethernet can run between computers, between a computer and a cable Internet connection, or from a computer to a router. Computers can also make all of these connections wirelessly, if they have the right equipment.

    Routers are usually able to take an incoming Internet connection and send it to wired computers via Ethernet cable, or wirelessly when the right equipment is in place. Wireless speeds vary, with the oldest and slowest standard a, then b, g, and the newest, n. Each advance allows for faster flow of information.

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    Web Cam

    A web cam, whether internal or external, allows video communication from a computer. More and more laptops are being built with web cams as standard equipment.

    Desktops usually have external web cams connect to them.

    Image from linked article on web cameras.

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    Expansion slots and bays on desktop computers allow different components to be slotted in, and expand what the computer can do. Laptops are much more limited. Most laptops do have a mini pc expansion card slot, and this allows then to add some different functions to the laptop. However, you need to look at the capabilities of your laptop, and decide what you most want to add.
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    If your laptop doesn't have wireless connectivity, you can get a wireless card, or a bluetooth card. If you want better graphics capability than your laptop came with, you can get a graphics card which will improve the laptop's graphic display, which a gamer might want. Or you can get a sound card, if that is important to you. But you only get one option- at least at a time. With a desktop, you can add all of those features, and possibly a second hard drive or Blu-ray player too.

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    Graphic Tablets

    Graphic tablets (also could be considered an input device) - These are used by artists and graphic designers, and allow artwork to be done on a computer screen that formerly could only be done with paper and pencil.

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    External/Portable Hard Drive/Tapes

    Image from linked article on external drives.

    External and portable drives allow backups to be removed from the vacinity of a computer, or data to be carried to a new location. They have been getting larger and sturdier.

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    On the next page we consider media read/write devices, portable card readers and memory cards, USB gadgets and printers.

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    More Computer Hardware Parts - From Read/Write Devices to USB GadgetsThe list of computer hardware ends with a look at Media read/write devices, Portable card readers and memory cards, USB gadgets and printers. Additional material on each can be found in the accompanying links.
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    Media Read/Write Devices

    Computers usually have ways to read, and sometimes write media, to access information from sources other than the Internet. They can have internal or external optical drivers, which vary in their ability to read or or write media from CDs to DVDs to Blu-ray discs. Almost all computers have USB ports, which allow connection to external media devices and memory and various peripherals. Many also have card readers, which read and write to various types of memory cards.
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    Portable Card Readers and Memory Cards

    These are a way to make information portable and to move it from device to computer or computer to computer.

    Image from linked article on flash cards.

    SD cards of different types abound, and some computers have built in readers. Others can read different types with external USB readers. SD cards have different speeds, and come in different sizes - although the smaller sizes can fit inside a holder to be used where a full size card is needed.

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    USB Gadgets

    USB devices are ubiquitious. They connect everything from a USB flash drive to portable drives of different types.

    Image from linked article on USB flash drives.

    If a computer does not have a card reader or a optical reader built into it, the USB port on the computer will let the user attach a peripheral, which can perform those functions, or an external storage device- such as a hard drive or tapes. If you need to attach a lot of peripherals, one can use a USB hub. Peripherals use the USB port to communicate with the motherboard. Some USB devices- a generic term for everything which uses a USB port to attach to a computer- use the computer's own power to run, while others need an external power source as well. They could have a powercord that attaches to a separate electrical source. USB hubs, which allow many USB devices to attach to your computer, are the USB equivalent of a power strip, and will have a power cord so that the extra perpherials have power to run.

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    Printers have developed at the same time as computers - perhaps sooner, as the typewriters became more sophisticated, and are often considered essential. Currently, they are available as wired or wireless. There are a number of choices for printers- inkjet or laser, with different costs and cycles of duty. It is worth considering your needs and then evaluating the choices to find a printer that is not a money pit.

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    Additional Reading

    For an alphabetical list of many computer related terms for hardware and software, see these series:

    Glossary of Computer Hardware Terms: Numbers and Symbols

    A Glossary of Windows Terms - Series from A to Z.